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Observations: Beyond Infinity

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image A lonely park bench overlooks frozen Lake Okabena in Worthington, Minnesota. Soon enough the snow will melt and better days will be on hand. Days with moments when things will seem as good as they can get. Mitch Traphagen Photo

Maybe that’s what life is all about — a series of moments when things feel they are about as good as they can get.


The first few times I went to the nursing home, she didn’t wake up. I would stay for a few moments, then tell her I’d be back, hoping later would be a better time.

I drove around my small town and remembered much of what it felt like to grow up there. I realized that for many people, there are a few moments in the wide span of time when everything feels as good as it will get — those few brief moments when you become aware that things are good and you are happy with how life is. If you are really lucky, those few moments may even feel like forever.

In my early teens, a friend’s grandfather offered three friends and me a deal wherein we could use his 16-foot sailboat as long as we would agree to actually learn how to sail the thing and that we would take care of it. A sailboat was cool, but even cooler was the dock that was next door to Kelly’s house where she would spend summer days sunbathing.

Kelly was the cutest, hottest girl in school for as long as I had known her. One classmate would regularly throw parties in her parent’s basement. Those parties were G-rated; there were no drugs and no booze. That wasn’t our thing at 14. But there were black lights and strobe lights, slow songs by Elton John and there was Kelly.

Back to the nursing home, I was fortunate to arrive at a good moment and we had a nice conversation for an hour or so. And then she decided that it was time to go to sleep. It was dark and cold outside and I had a five-hour drive to the airport ahead of me. I sat there for a few moments after she closed her eyes and then I kissed her on her forehead, told her I loved her, and that I would be back as soon as I could. Then I said goodbye for what could be the last time — again.

I stopped at the first rest area and stood outside in the cold 18-degree air trying to figure out where things would go from here. I felt displaced and realized that happens to all of us. Things like houses and schools go on with new families and children and we fade into the past. It is inevitable.

On the dark freeway, a slow song by Elton John came on the car stereo. Suddenly, I was transported into my classmate’s basement. I was 14, my Mom was happy, and my Dad was still alive. I could see the black lights and the kids drinking Elf soda. At the Elton John song, I asked Kelly to dance. Every guy in that basement was waiting for that moment, I just happened to ask first. She said “Yes” and as the song played from my iPhone through the rental car stereo, I could remember the texture of her shirt, I could even remember her scent.

She didn’t say “Yes” to dancing with me because I was a cute, hot guy. I wasn’t. She said “Yes” because she was, simply, a very nice, hot girl.

I laughed when for the first time I realized my memories’ twisted end game. I got into sailing because of that girl. If it wasn’t for sailing, I would never have come to Florida and I would not be writing these words. Amazed at the seemingly small influences that had incredible impact, I willed myself to time travel, hoping I could right some wrongs. I even imagined how, on that night in May of 1978, I would convince my Dad that he really needed to trust me; that he needed to go to the hospital before it was too late.

Could I have convinced him? I’ll never know. But that didn’t stop me from wondering how much different so many lives would have been had he lived, not the least of which my Mom’s life.

I think my parents had moments where things felt almost as good as they could get. I was the youngest of four children so I was there to see them enter a comfort zone. They were starting to see that getting older might be a pretty good thing. That ended abruptly when my Dad died at the age of 43. My Mom was able to coast on their life together for quite a while, but she never found anyone to replace him.

I know my Dad wanted other things in life. He was terribly overworked, stressed-out and took on far too much responsibility. That is just how he lived. And that, too, is how he died. If nothing else, that should serve as a lesson. And yet although he was a busy man, he always made time for me and all of his children — another lesson. He was making plans, thinking up changes. He just didn’t live to see them.

He didn’t need more stuff; he needed more time. I know he had a feeling about it all, a good feeling. He would sit down and tell me about life and none of it was money or stuff — it was life, my Mom, my brother and sisters, all of the things that made him happy. He had enough to be happy.

I haven’t seen Kelly since I left high school 32 years ago, but I have little doubt that today she is a beautiful and gracious 50-year-old woman. Back then, I had no illusions of running off and marrying her, I was happy with a slow dance. A cute girl, Elton John singing a slow song, and infinity before me — it was enough.

Maybe that’s what life is all about — a series of moments when things feel they are about as good as they can get. Driving on a dark winter’s night, I decided it was time to find some of those moments again. I can’t wait too long, though. Like all of us of a certain age, infinity is no longer before me.

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