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A Note to My Five-Year-Old Nephew

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Hi, H-Man —

It’ll be decades before what follows will be of any use to you, and if you’re like me, before it’s of use you’ll understand it, but you won’t be able to appreciate it. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have it rattling around in the ol’ back-brain until you can benefit from it, so I thought it a good idea to jot this down now, in hopes you’ll someday read it and benefit in some small way from it.


Growing old, as your grandmother says, is not for sissies. While I’m not prepared to say I’m old, exactly, I’ve now reached the stage of “growing older” where I have absorbed these lessons …

[1] Stay Active. Don’t be the quintessential “couch potato,” don’t let your studies or your job consume you sixty to seventy hours a week, don’t succumb to the lure of the latest zip-zapping, bright-shiny gizmo at the expense of playing one-on-one basketball, or running and lifting weights, or any other physical activity that will build up a sweat and keep your muscles toned, your torso and limbs trim. You know the grandmother I mentioned above? One of the reasons she’s still going strong (as I write this) at age seventy-five is because she still mows her own lawn, trims her own hedges, walks and bikes every day, line dances, bowls, and probably one or two other things I’m forgetting to list. She stays active — and she reaps the benefits. Stay active and you’ll receive those same benefits, too.

[2] Don’t Do Foolish Things That Will Eventually Compromise Your Health. My Dad chewed his fingernails; I’ve chewed them all my life. I eventually started cracking my knuckles; I’ve been a knuckle-cracker since my early teens. “What’s the harm?” You ask at the time. “It’s not doing a thing to me!” Ehhh-h-h-h — don’t kid yourself. As the years and the decades stack up, such behavior starts to take a toll. Today I’m feeling the early stages of arthritis, my right hand’s little finger has a knuckle that’s grown so swollen I can no longer full close that fist. All the way through your thirties you’re likely to feel invincible — avoid stupid little bad habits like fingernail chewing and knuckle cracking and maybe you’ll continue to feel that way into your forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, too.

[3] Support the Deserving Little Guys. The hard-working, quality-delivering Independent is always more satisfying to do business with than the giant, monolithic, impersonal Multinational. You can’t avoid the big guys, but you can seek out and support those little guys who are worthy of that support. You’ll shop at a chain supermarket, but if you have a butcher shop selling quality meats cut-to-order, or an area farm stand where you can buy farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, give those folks your business, even if you pay a little bit more. Who’s the best-selling author of the day? He or she doesn’t need your money — find the talented-but-lesser-known lights and read their works. They need the sales! Remember, the fact that you support the deserving little guys makes you a Big Guy in their eyes.

[4a] Treasure What Has Gone Before. The multinational pop culture industry and the media that supports it will try to tell you the only thing that’s important is buying What’s New Right Now, and looking ahead to What’s Coming Up. Don’t you believe it for an instant. The past century is stuffed to the rafters with amazing works, produced by unprecedented talents. Whether they know it or not, whoever Today’s Big Sellers are, they stand on the shoulders of Giants from the Past who originally plowed the territory they are now tilling. In music, go listen to Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison — in fiction, read The USA Trilogy by Dos Passos and the award-winning fiction of Harlan Ellison (that alone will keep you busy!), the science fiction of Asimov and Ray Bradbury, the detective fiction of Hammett and Raymond Chandler — in comics, read the first hundred issues of Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, everything you can find by Will Eisner and Steranko, and, well, your Aunt Krista should have a pretty full bookshelf or two of beautiful comics by Milton Caniff and Jack Kent and Alex Raymond and Chet Gould and so many more. I helped create those books, and they’re a legacy I’m pleased and proud to share with you, if you’re of a mind to read them.

[4b] Stories You Love Will Go Sour on You Over Time. It might be because the gigantic multinational that owns the property decides to overexpose it, wring it dry of immediate profits, and leave the desiccated carcass along the roadside for the most devoted fans to pick at, like vultures stripping a carcass of its last edible scraps. It might be because it was an immensely powerful story in its time, but its time passes and the qualities that made it resonate no longer seem relevant. (Note that “no longer exist” and “no longer seem relevant” are two different things — stories set in World War II are still relevant when they illustrate the unthinking lust for power and man’s capability for inhumanity to his fellow man, even though World War II is now far, far in our past.) It might be that the work itself stands the test of time, but you yourself have changed so much that the story that held you spellbound in your teens or twenties will no longer “reach” you in your forties or fifties. It happens. It’s not the story’s fault, and it’s not your fault. That’s just the way it goes, sometimes.

[5] There Is No Number Five. Just funnin’ with ya — and if you know from where I cribbed that idea, it’ll a sign these words have reached you in the way I might hope they would.

[6] Longer Life Equals Increased Loss. It’s impossible to hang on to every good person you’ll meet along the way. Your favorite restaurants will close. Your favorite musical group will have a bitter break-up and the solo music that follows will never be as sweet as the music the band members made when they were together. Your favorite actor will stop getting work. Folks you like on the periphery of your life will begin to pass away — you’ll acknowledge those losses, and you’ll think, “If this is what death is like, it isn’t so bad.”

Then the dying will start to hit closer to home. It may be a parent (my Dad’s been gone eighteen years as I type this; not a week goes by when I don’t think of him, if only to use one or another of his favorite sayings, of which he had many) — it may be a close friend (it’s been almost two years now since my long-time pal Howard died. Our mutual friends and I still keenly feel the hole his absence has left in all our lives) — it’s even possible you’ll outlive a lover. Life changes forever after those types of losses. Nothing as you go forward is ever the same as it used to be — that doesn’t mean it’s all bad, and gloom and doom, and deep-dark depression. It just means we carry on and find the pleasures and the joys where we can, and if the light of days seems a little less sharply-defined, if the fire inside burns a little more slowly and deeply, that’s all right.

But once a loved one is gone, there are no do-overs, so say what you have to say to those you care about, and don’t pass up those opportunities to visit close friends and family members when those chances present themselves, because the day will come when there are no more opportunities, no more chances. It’s a shame to have business that can never be finished.

Of course, the path of life isn’t all filled with cautionary road signs like these. There is a world to discover that is full of wonder — there is good food to savor, more delightful entertainment than you can every experience in a single lifetime, incredible man-made wonders to experience, and natural wonders that dwarf even those. Most of all, there are persons to love who will love you back with all their hearts: hold them tightly and recognize them for what they are: the most precious gift of all.

And I hope you remember that in your case, H-Man, I’m on that list of those who love you, even if I am the only one kooky enough to send you a note down across a whole batch of years-still-to-come.

By the time you read this, I hope you’re in the midst of a splendid life. You deserve nothing less.

Lotsa luv

Your uncle, – B –


Written by cnwl1

September 26, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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