More than any place else I lived in growing up, I called Joplin, MO home. It was my Home of Record when I was in the Army. It was the place I went home to for the holidays and special events. It was the place I always returned to when life changed until after grad school.
Joplin is Midwestern town through and through. Coming of age there in the late 70s and early 80s cars, girls, and danger. Dragging Main Street was the thing to do on the Friday and Saturday nights. The endless cruising, talking car to car, stops in parking lots, the occasional fight, and the more frequent race off the change of the light.
I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
Me and my partner Sonny built her straight out of scratch
And he rides with me from town to town
We only run for the money, got no strings attached
We shut ’em up and then we shut ’em down
-Bruce Springsteen, “Racing in the Streets”
I kind of loved it all. Even though most weekends it was pathetically boring.
Except the racing.
Joplin is laid out overlapping the bulk of two Survey Townships. Two thirty-six square mile grids with main streets (including Main St.) spaced a mile apart and razor straight. Not flat, but not hilly enough to do much more than hide a waiting squad car. Officially, Main Street proper seems to be just under four miles. It’s not much, but it doesn’t need to be much with a dozen or so traffic lights interspersed and the only distance that matters is between two traffic lights.
I might have won a few races here and there. Now, I’m not admitting to have ever actually raced, because that would be wrong. Would have been wrong, and against my parents’ wishes and the way I was raised. And we know, a 1977 Ford Pinto was never expected to be fast.
Unless you knew it had a 2.8L six cylinder under the hood instead of a weak-ass four-banger.
I love cars when they work. I’ve learned to hate cars when they don’t. I tried being a mechanic. I replaced the warped aluminum four-cylinder of a Chevy Vega with an eight cylinder Chevy 350. That car was dangerously fast. Especially when the steering linkage failed.
Much of my life can be described as history of cars. Some good, some bad, some that I really, really, really should have stayed away from. There were one or two that seemed my heart and soul.
But I have no pictures of most. In some ways this is kind of strange, because for years I was trying to be a photographer. I never took pictures of my stuff or my life. I just took pictures of other people, other lives. This was brought home last Sunday when I received a Facebook friend request from someone I served with in the Army. We connected, exchanged a few messages, and I noticed he had pictures of those days.
It never occurred to me take pictures of my Army experience. Never. Admittedly, my life was pretty miserable because of the marriage I was in at that time so I am pretty sure I wasn’t thinking I would want to recall those days. There are pictures of my son from that time and a few family pictures and that’s about it.
“Racing the Streets” is one of my favorite Springsteen songs. I don’t actually make an effort to play it. It is one of those songs, like “The River”, that I think is best when it just comes on the radio and I say myself, “Ahhh, I really love this song.”
But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She sighs, “baby did you make it all right, “
She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house
But all her pretty dreams are torn,
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
-Bruce Springsteen, Racing in the Streets
But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
-Bruce Springsteen, “The River”
I remember these days of cars, of the Army, long ago. I don’t really recall what my dreams might have been, other than perhaps of glory and fortune. Clearly, those did not really come true, insofar as most people might measure these. But did the dreams die or did they evolve? Were they every really there?
What I do know is that time rushes like a damn river. It passes by quickly and no matter what you do, you can’t step in the same piece of water twice. It is always moving, always different, never at rest. Time passes and the water moves on. It’s this moment that matters. What has been done can’t be undone, what has happened can’t be changed, and one can only seek redemption in the current moment..
A few months ago I wrote about the price of impatience. In my continued reading about mindfulness and trying to live in the moment, I ran across this passage from “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
I see patience as one these fundamental ethical attitudes. If you cultivate patience, you can’t help but to cultivate mindfulness, and your meditation practice will gradually become richer and more mature. After all, if you really aren’t trying to go anywhere else in the moment, patience takes care of itself. It is remembering that things unfold in their own time. The seasons cannot be hurried. Spring comes, the grass grows by itself. Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help, and it can create a great deal of suffering, sometimes in us, sometimes in those who have to be around us.
Patience is an ever present alternative to the mind’s endemic restlessness and impatience. Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way the are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it. This doesn’t mean you can’t hurry when you have to. It is possible even to hurry patiently, mindfully, moving fast because you have chosen to.
From the perspective of patience, things happen because other things happen. Nothing is separate and isolated. There is no absolute, end-of-the-line, the-buck-stops-here root cause.
And the river keeps rushing by. I read this and said, “Yep, just says it differently. The price of impatience is to be unsatisfied and anger is at the source.” These have been the big things I have tackled this year, with some success.
You make up your mind, you choose the chance you take
You ride to where the highway ends and the desert breaks
Out on to an open road you ride until the day
You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay
Now with their hands held high, they reached out for the open skies
And in one last breath they built the roads they’d ride to their death
Driving on through the night, unable to break away
From the restless pull of the price you pay
Oh, the price you pay, oh, the price you pay
Now you can’t walk away from the price you pay
-Bruce Springsteen, “The Price You Pay”
Take a breath.
Count to one.
Repeat, as needed.
You are always in the moment of the current breath. Why count beyond? There is no need to race about, no need to just react. Breathe. Be. Patience.