You are now free to move about … the rest of your life

Go Dog, Go!

These dogs in northern California know what to do with their one ‘wild and precious life.’

I’ll take my metaphors wherever I can get ’em.

This one came courtesy of a flight attendant — four of them, actually — on my recent vacation.

A cross-country trip from the snowy Northeast to sunny California (and back home, unfortunately) required four separate flights. With each landing, I heard something like this: “Use caution opening the overhead bin, as your bags may have shifted during flight.”

My bags were fine. But all week on vacation, I kept opening my overhead psychological bin only to discover that some personal baggage had shifted. (If you think I’ve lost my luggage, as it were, here’s what I mean:)

In recent years I’ve felt a growing, nagging sense of urgency, a sense that I need to do more with my life. The older I get, the faster the years zip by. I want them to slow down. I need them to slow down. There is still so much good work to do, so much fun to have.

The baggage shift: No longer will I play it safe and just “settle” for circumstances that, while comfortable, border on mediocrity or even apathy. If I merely coast, I might get somewhere eventually. Or I might not. It’s time to take a harder look at the world around me, and do something about things that aren’t right. Some of my recent posts on this blog are part of that shift, I think.

Usually cautious and mostly rational, I stepped way out of my comfort zone and did something on vacation I never thought I’d do. I bought a mandolin. (That’s not a typo.) I’ve never learned to play an instrument, but I like the mandolin’s sound and admire those who play it well. Can I learn a new trick at 56? Blame Levon Helm, I suppose.

My primary goal is to learn to play a couple of songs I like without sounding like the musical equivalent of a Dumpster fire. True nirvana would be to some day sit in on an Irish session in a pub. (I could then die happy, since the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004 and I finished my 10th marathon in 2013.)

As so often happens when I need guidance, I look to the words and wisdom of far more eloquent writers. Two come to mind now, the poets Mary Oliver and Robert Browning, and they fit nicely together.

Like good reporters, they ask some tough questions here.

A line from Oliver’s “The Summer Day” hasn’t really left my overhead bin since I first heard it a few years ago — “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

And a line of Browning‘s has been with me since high school: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in American History, family, Irish Investigations, photography, running, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to You are now free to move about … the rest of your life

  1. markbialczak says:

    Quickly learn to take it slow, my friend. I’m talking about the mandolin and rich Irish sessions, Jim. The rest of your baggage about now, now, now, I heartily endorse you going for it. Welcome home.


  2. OH JIM! You have just so perfectly expressed my emotions/feelings/thoughts for the past few years. I have tried painting (horrid! but I love it), hiking (love it), guitar and now ukulele (horrid but LOVE it), carving (oh my), building things, etc. There is SO very much to do indeed. And I love these quotes. You are indeed my inspiration today. I am saving this blog. Forever.


  3. Jim McKeever says:

    Thank you, Colleen … I think ‘horrid’ applies to my mandolin playing for the time being. But we have to keep on keepin’ on!


  4. Mary Kane says:

    When Lıfe Smacks You In The Face You Have To Smack Back Jımmy!


  5. ermigal says:

    Beautiful piece–inspiring. Time to go for broke in life! Thank you, Jim! 🙂


  6. Dennis H says:

    Great piece, Jim. Here are a couple of things that never fail to shift my baggage: One is Iris Dement’s heartbreaking “Our Town” in which the end is near for someone who never left town, but did a lot anyway. You can hear it in the final scene of Northern Exposure:
    The other is Father William, which I loved as a kid and still look to for guidance as the years speed by and I wonder where they go. Here’s Father William:


  7. Coop says:

    Add This Tennyson quote to your repertoire:
    “Though much is taken, much abides; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
    From his poem Ulysses.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. LAMarcom says:

    “In recent years I’ve felt a growing, nagging sense of urgency, a sense that I need to do more with my life.”

    I listened to Oliver. And I did love it. Wow. Thanks for sharing that.

    I used to be a ‘serious’ runner: Forty-plus miles a week, leading up to my second trip to BUD/s (SEAL training in Coronado, CA, circa 1988). I was too old for that training the first time (28), and damn sure too old the second (30). Anyway, I sustained some injuries.

    Point is: I miss my running years. Longest was The La Jolla Half. I wish I still had THAT T-Shirt (it was long-sleeved and a prized possession (Left it somewhere on the battlefield of one of my Four failed marriages)
    Sorry, rambling here…

    In perusing your blog, ya got me.
    Expect me to ‘Darken Your Blog Door’ (probably too much)
    Ask Mark.
    I am slightly deranged.

    Oh, and Thanks to Mark for the introduction.
    Lance, The Erstwhile Runner.

    P.S. Here is a story I read once in a Runner’s Book. I believe it was Joe Henderson, but could have been any number of runner/writers from The Seventies.
    No matter.
    The story goes thus:
    Running Author was ‘running’ down an urban street.
    Little Kid says,
    “Hello Mister Jogger!”
    Runner/ Writer says,
    “It’s RUNNER Kid! Runner! Get it right!”
    Little Kid says,
    “Then why are you jogging?”

    That was me. I never was much better than nine minute miles (for distance)


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Lance, thanks for all your comments. I’m glad you found my blog via Mark. Lots of good stuff out there to write about. I’m guessing I’ll darken yours on occasion as well. Cheers. Jim


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