Edward Snowden is the 30-year-old computer contractor for a company working with the NSA who exposed some of the agency’s capabilities and actions involving the potential privacy of not only every American, but also quite likely, every person on earth with a cell phone and Internet access.
For Snowden, it really doesn’t matter what any of us think about him or what he did. It doesn’t matter if the clarity of historical hindsight eventually labels him a hero or a traitor, it doesn’t matter if our elected officials are posturing or ignoring it. For Mr. Snowden, the result is the same: having just celebrated his 30th birthday, his life as he knows it is over. With his actions, he turned a corner, walked through a door and down a one-way street. In this case, as in the cases of so many much smaller things people do in their lives, there is no way to turn a sausage grinder backwards and make a pig pop out.
I didn’t make it to my nephew’s wedding last weekend. He is one of six nephews, the first to marry, and I missed the wedding that was held on Saturday in northern Minnesota. I told myself that I had too much going on, that the travel was too expensive for the short time I’d have and that it was only fair that I missed it because it is unlikely that I would make the trip for the future weddings of my other nephews. And now the day after, I see photos posted by siblings on Facebook, I see my brother, a good man whom I love, respect and admire, and I realized just how much I have missed — and it was far more than a wedding. His pride and happiness jumps through the photographs. I wasn’t there when my nephews grew up, I wasn’t there last Saturday — missing the wedding was just more of the same and I can’t turn the sausage grinder backwards now.
I am acutely aware that time is running out for much of what I had once thought I would do. I won’t have children, it’s too late for that. With each passing day, the likelihood that I’ll write the long-dreamed-about book dims. I can’t take the money I spent equipping a sailboat for the ocean and put it into a 401K. I can’t see Kellen and his lovely now-wife Erika get married. Chances are that I won’t be able to travel at the last minute to see my brother when he becomes a grandfather. And he will be one heck of a great grandfather.
Perhaps it was seeing my Dad die at a young age that threw me off course — but then thinking that I realize that sounds like an excuse and that is the hallmark of my generation (and certainly a hallmark of mine): finding something, anything to blame for my own failures. I had this idea to go sailing. I did, without regard to a career or having children. I had this idea to live on a boat in Florida. I did, without regard for my family and all that would happen in my absence. In the end, I basically went my own way on a meandering course with the false belief that I could and would find the right star to steer towards someday. Now I’m worried that I missed that someday. Or have I?
Thanks to Facebook, I see people I graduated from high school with are beginning to wind down careers and are just starting to enjoy grandchildren. I doubt any of them have ever stood on the deck of their own boat and watched the mountains of the Dominican Republic rise from the ocean with the sunrise or been invited into a ramshackle hovel by a financially impoverished but rich in heart and soul family in Havana for coffee. I have been blessed in this job to have the honor and privilege to meet so many amazing people in Sun City Center, Ruskin, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach and Riverview. But my former classmates have the present and their futures appear reasonably clear, while I have memories. Sometimes it feels like having the present is better than having the past, but those are memories that I wouldn’t trade.
Dr. Satya Gullapalli in Sun City Center is the best doctor I have ever known. Last week she suggested I take an entire day to do nothing but think about where I am at, and what has changed in the past months and years. “If things aren’t better, perhaps it is time to move on and do something different,” she said.
She was referring primarily to my physical health and general stress level but it seems an apt consideration for life. I’ve made mistakes and now, in hindsight, I’m wondering if I traded the future for the ever-fleeting present.
Edward Snowden’s life, as he once knew it, is over. He will never be able to do the things he may have thought about only last month, nor will he be able to do the things that he hasn’t yet taken the time to consider. I can’t make a public judgment as to whether or not he is a hero or a traitor but I can, in a very small way, relate to the fear that is almost certainly now engulfing him. Some things can’t be undone. Lately, I’ve been furiously cranking the sausage grinder backwards hoping a pig would pop out. It won’t. Trying to make something like that happen is just wasting time. There is simply nowhere to live in the past.
“It’s never too late,” people like to say. Yes, sometimes it is too late. And when that becomes clear, where do you go from there? Unless you are Edward Snowden, all you can do is look towards tomorrow and if things aren’t better, perhaps it’s time to move on to something else. Tomorrow is wide open. Tomorrow can be almost anything we want it to be and the only thing stopping most of us, myself included, are our own fears. Despite age, past mistakes, disabilities, finances, fear, or whatever that can hold back dreams, the story of tomorrow hasn’t been written yet. How it will read is entirely up to you.
Regardless of anything else, it can still be one hell of a great story.