with the writing of this letter. I stared at the computer's blank
page for hours. I left it on the screen while I found a million
other "chores" to do around the house. I lay in bed at
night feeling the pressure of the deadline. I read my polite reminder
e-mails from Ellen and resolved to get it done
wasn't my usual procrastination. I'm an idea person so I generally
have no problem with coming up with ideas in abundance everything
from the sublime to the ridiculous, but in abundance. I was struggling
to find my theme.
hit my pause button.
problem is that I am truly "on the fence." I am in the
exact middle the halfway point. Only by the grace of God
there is as much stretching out behind me as there is now in front
of me. What is all this nonsense, you may ask? I am exactly 45 and
a half years old. It feels like the true halfway point. Though I
carry the shiny number 100 in my head as I have done ever since
I was a child and learned for the first time about death, I know
that only a very few lucky, and maybe not so lucky, people reach
45 has been huge. It has changed my whole thinking process almost
overnight. The changes in my physical self are still thankfully
not major unwelcome, but workable. The changes in my brain
are profound. I can't seem to escape it. I forget for a while and
then bang there it is again. I'm still doing all the
same things I always did. I'm stiffer in the mornings and sometimes
downright sore, but I still do everything the same. I just think
differently. Without even trying, I now look at everything from
a slightly different angle, as if someone shifted the world on me
just a little shift.
asked to give the commencement speech at a college I attended for
a while (about a million years ago), and I was surprised to be asked
because I temporarily forgot how long ago it really was. That speech
has been included in this edition of THE VOICE. I gave that speech
in the spring. Spring is really when this whole 45 thing started
to hit me. I've had a summer of revelations. I recently took my
son Jake to Minnesota to spend 8 days with my parents on the lake
where I grew up. I wanted him to see Minnesota in the summertime.
He needed to know that I didn't come from the North Pole and that
summers are green, warm and beautiful in Garrison, Minnesota. We
hiked and fished and sat around my Dad's fire pit at night roasting
marshmallows, hotdogs and our faces when we got too close. Did I
mention my Dad is a bit of a pyromaniac? We watched the beautiful
sunsets over that lake where I spent many hours of my youth dreaming
about doing exactly what I am doing now. I had not been home in
Minnesota in the summertime in almost 15 years. I'd been there for
gray frigid leafless Thanksgivings and frozen white Christmases,
but I had not been there for the season of my youth summer.
Summer in Minnesota is the only time I really remember growing up
because winter is long with short days filled with nothing but school
and waiting for spring. I needed to go home when it was green and
the lake was waiting in order for me to bring back my real childhood.
Whatever I am now was conjured up in the summers on that lake in
had a great time. I had a profound time. I rode my Mom's old fat
seat no gear bike around the tiny town of Garrison just like I used
to do on my own bike so many summers ago. Not too much has changed
in Garrison, and something about that is both comforting and weird
at the same time. Oh, there have been changes. Some things are bigger,
newer and shinier, but they are right next to things that haven't
changed in 30 years.
Jake as we sat in the old row boat and fished for "sunnies"
and perch thirty feet out from our dock. I realized as I looked
at him that he was only a few years younger than my brother was
the first time we sat together in that boat. Back then my brother
would pull the guts out of the fish when they swallowed the hook.
This time I had to do it. Poor fish. I did learn that earthworms
don't feel pain just pressure, and that made me feel a little better.
I really hate putting worms on a hook, but I love my son.
eagles fly over the lake and often land in the big Norway pines
in front of my parents' house. You hear loons call all day, and
we saw several pair swimming with their almost grown babies. There
are several new and too expensive houses built on the lake now and
it is strange to pass them while we fish, but I had to pass them
on the way to the fun places on the lake that my brother and I used
to find. You have to paddle into the tall reeds and wild rice like
we did the day he almost fell out of the boat when a Canadian goose
flew over our heads so low that we could have reached up and touched
Dad did some fishing with us. Watching him steer the boat made me
think of the time he woke my sister and I up early before school,
one cold and gray fall morning, to take us out duck hunting. He
had felt that he hadn't been fair always taking my brother on hunting
trips and had decided to take the girls. The two of us sat huddled
under a blanket freezing while we waited, and I secretly hoped no
ducks would fly. No ducks flew. Maybe freezing to death makes too
much noise. He prefers ice fishing now, but he came along on a few
trips to run the outboard motor and give us the grand tour of all
the new "too big and expensive" homes. My Dad was there
when Jake caught his first fish. A few seconds later, I caught the
smallest Walleye on record. It ate the hook. Dad
like the motor. I like to row quietly around the lake.
out by myself early one evening after dinner. I finally let Jake
watch the cartoons he was having withdrawal from and went down the
hill to the water alone. I rowed out to the fishing spot in front
of our dock and started casting. I had my Dad's old tackle box and
fishing reel. Just looking at all the lures brought back memories.
My Dad has a lot of lures. He admits to being an impatient fisherman
and changes lures every few minutes. I also had a big rubber glove
and a huge needle nose pliers in case I actually did catch a fish.
(I hate touching them) In an hour of fishing, I caught a lot of
weeds and only one northern but it was exciting, and fortunately
the fish came off the hook while I had it by the boat trying to
decide what to do with it. But in that hour I saw the most beautiful
sunset I think I have ever seen. The lake was like glass. Besides
every shade of yellow, red and orange, this sunset had shades of
purple. Sitting out on that water in that little boat with all that
color and air around me made me feel like I wasn't just looking
at the sunset I was part of it. At its peak, I looked up
the hill to my parents' house to see Jake racing down it, cartoons
forgotten. I rowed back to the dock, which juts out straight west
from the shoreline. I gave him the reel and watched him fish off
the end of the dock, casting like a pro into that amazing sunset.
My parents' house sits 120 feet up a steep hill overlooking the
lake. I wished for my camera, but I'm 45 and it's a steep hill.
I can only hope the memory stays as clear as that moment. It was
a summer of revelations, and it reached its peak on that old sun
much of life behind as there is in front if I'm lucky.
eight days in a Minnesota summertime, I stopped to look back for
awhile. On that dock silhouetted by the sunset, I saw the ghost
of a skinny 13 year old girl beside my son one casting into
the other casting into the future.