Thursday, November 1, 2012

Steppenwolf -- "It's Never Too Late" (1969)

Your eyes are moist, you scream and shout
As though you were a man possessed
From deep inside comes rushing forth
All the anguish you suppressed

I took three years of Latin in high school, and I remember only two quotes.

One is Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres — "All Gaul is divided into three parts."  That's the opening line of Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War.

The other is Dum spiro spero — "While I breathe, I hope" — which is usually attributed to Cicero, the master of Latin prose.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC — 43 BC)
I'll come back to Dum spiro spero a little later.  But first, we have a special occasion to celebrate.

Actually, we have two special occasions to celebrate.  We'll get the less important one out of the way so we can focus on the more important one.

2 or 3 lines is three years old today!  (And what a big boy he is for a three-year-old . . . 427 posts big!)

I was concerned that Hurricane Sandy might cause enough chaos to force me to delay this third anniversary post.  It seemed likely that we would suffer a sustained power outage and a lengthy internet service interruption.

But that storm caused surprisingly little damage and disruption in my neighborhood.  So the celebration of the third birthday of my wildly popular little blog is taking place on schedule.  

So three cheers for 2 or 3 lines!  Or two cheers, if you're not feeling up to three.  Either two or three cheers will work.

I had several ideas for today's post.  I've been saving a couple of my favorite records for a rainy day, and thought about writing about one of them. 

But I attended a very special wedding last Saturday, and decided that I had to write about it.

This way to the wedding!
So there I was, sitting under a tent on the lawn of an oceanfront inn in a small town in Maine with several dozen other folks, waiting for the bride to walk down the aisle and join her husband-to-be for their wedding ceremony.

Seeing the woman I will refer to as "D" as she made her entrance on the arm of her father was an almost overwhelming experience.  Not because she looked beautiful in her long white lace-trimmed wedding dress — although she certainly did look beautiful — but because I was seeing her for the first time in 35 years.

The last time I had seen D, she was a 20-year-old college student.  Now she was a 55-year-old mother of three.  She looked different, but she also looked exactly the same.

The happy couple -- in 1974
Seeing her made me feel the same way I feel when I look at photographs of my adult children that were taken when they were six, or eight, or twelve years old.  First, you revel in the happy memories that those pictures produce.  Then, you are staggered by the realization of how much of your life has passed — and how quickly it all happened.  It can all be almost too much to bear.

D was so recognizably the same person I had met for the first time in the fall of 1974, when I was a first-year law student and she was the girlfriend of my friend "M," who lived a few doors down the hall from me in our law school dormitory.  

She was a college freshman that year.  M was a graduate law student — he already had a law degree, and was pursuing a master's in law.  He was at the law school for only one year, but we spent a lot of time together.

I saw M and D on occasion over the next couple of years.  I went to visit M in New York City a couple of times, and he came up to Cambridge to visit D.  I would occasionally see her walking to class or running errands — her college was directly across the street from my law school dorm.  Once she even fixed me up on a blind date with one of her friends. 

I graduated from law school in 1977 and moved to Washington, DC — later I lived in San Francisco and Philadelphia.  M's law firm sent him to Paris for a few years and to Mexico City for a few years, but eventually he gave up the practice of law and went into business in the small town in upstate New York where he had gone to college.  

We spoke occasionally over the years — only very occasionally, I'm sorry to say.  We hooked up on Facebook a couple of years ago, and have exchanged brief notes regularly since then.  But we hadn't met in person in 35 years until last Saturday, at his and D's wedding.

One of the gifts I brought to the wedding was a bottle of wine that M had given me when I was in law school.  M and I had decided to educate ourselves about wine by buying a very modest bottle every Friday to share and discuss.  He was kind enough to give me a bottle of '69 Chateau Montrose — a very credible red Bordeaux — for my graduation (or perhaps some other occasion).

I had taken the bottle to my parents' house after finishing law school and that's where it remained for the next 35 years or so.  I remembered it was there a couple of years ago after M and I reconnected on Facebook, and I decided to bring it to the wedding and present it to him as a tangible reminder of our law-school friendship — and of the days when he and D were young and in love.

The program that was handed out at the wedding tells the story of how M and D got back together after so many years.  

M never got married.  That surprises me a little — M is a very nice guy, not to mention good-looking, athletic, smart and successful.  

In old movies, when someone asked a bachelor why he had never gotten married, the usual answer was "I guess I never met the right girl."  In M's case, I suspect the reason was that he had met the right girl, but the right girl — D — wasn't available when he was ready to get married.

D had married after graduating from college, and had three children.  She had grown up in Connecticut, but lived out west for a number of years before moving to a charming little Maine town in the 1990s.

The view from outside the wedding tent
M tracked D down (with the help of her college's alumni office) in 2001.  They agreed to meet for dinner shortly after 9/11.

Here's what their wedding program says about what happened next:

M's bursting excitement about the reunion caused him to blurt out a proposal over dinner, on their first night together!  D, needing some peace and calm in her life at that time, was a bit blown away by M's energy and persistence, and the reunion was anything but a dream come true!

Reading between the lines a little, here's how I might translate that paragraph:

Bursting with excitement — and fortified by a few drinks — M blurted out a proposal on their first night together in many years.  D was completely freaked out by this display of temporary insanity and ran for the hills as fast as she could go.

(Take a minute to read the four lines I quoted at the beginning of this post — now you know why I chose those lines.)

I probably shouldn't joke about what happened that evening.  I'm sure it was very painful for M — I can imagine how sorry he was that he had acted so impulsively.

I'm very sympathetic to M because there have been a couple of times in my life when I came very close to throwing caution to the wind and making a similar declaration.  

One case involved someone I had known for a long time but only as a friend.  One day I was suddenly filled with regret that we had only been friends — it hit me that she might have been the one — and I was tempted to lay things on the line like M did.

But I kept my feelings to myself.  Maybe that was smart — I have no reason to think that the woman felt the same way about me, and even if she had been interested in me, she likely would have reacted in the same way that D reacted in 2001 if I had surprised her by baring my soul.

Or maybe it was just cowardly.  Maybe I was more afraid that she would say "yes" than I was that she would say "no."

In April 2011, M and D met once more — ten years after that ill-fated evening when M shocked D with his sudden proposal.  This time, things clicked — the two of them decided they were ready to complete the journey that they had begun in 1974.  In July of this year, M proposed once more and D happily accepted.

I'm not sure how M maintained his composure throughout the wedding service.  My emotions were running at high tide, and I was just a spectator.

Another view of the wedding site
Everyone I spoke to at the wedding had the same reaction — they were all thrilled for M and D, but they were also very aware that they were witnessing the culmination of a remarkable drama that had many twists and turns before it ended happily.

I had liked both M and D very much, and it was great to see such nice people looking so happy.  

But I was also pleased for myself.  M was a close friend, but our jobs took us to different parts of the world after the year we spent at law school together, and we eventually lost touch for many, many years.  I was very happy to have him as a friend again, and getting reacquainted with D to boot was a wonderful bonus.

And I was pleased for another reason.  The fact that M and D's story had a happy ending made me hopeful.  

That happy ending had been deferred for a very long time.  But the delay did not defeat them.  When the time for them to be together finally arrived, they had enough optimism and courage and faith in one another to seize the opportunity.

Do they regret not doing this 35 years ago?  I'm sure they must, at least at times -- who in their situation wouldn't look back and think about what might have been?  Life is short, and 35 years is a long time.

But as Saul Bellow wrote,

The past is no good to us.  The future is full of anxiety.  Only the present is real — the here-and-now.  Seize the day!

The narrator of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" wanted to seize the day, but was too paralyzed by fear and indecision to ask the "overwhelming question" that might have led to his finding happiness: 

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

From a "Prufrock" comic book by Julian Peters
Prufrock understood the consequences of his failure to dare:

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
Do I dare to eat a peach? . . .
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each
I do not think they will sing to me

We all grow old — one day at a time.  But one day at a time eventually turns into 35 years.  

When you reach that point, you have two choices.  You can say the words that John Greenleaf Whittier called the saddest words of tongue or pen: "It might have been!"

Or you can "seize the day."  You can "dare disturb the universe."  

That's what M and D chose to do.  I congratulate them for their choice.  They're an inspiration to me.

Remember the Cicero quote I mentioned earlier?  Dum spiro spero — "While I breathe, I hope."

Or as Steppenwolf put it in the song I'm featuring today, "It's never too late to start all over again."

I'm still breathing.  And I'm still hoping.  But what am I going to do?

And now, from Steppenwolf's 1969 album, At Your Birthday Party, here's "It's Never Too Late."  Happy birthday, 2 or 3 lines — more importantly, congratulations and best wishes to M and D!

Click below if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:

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