Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fading Away

IndyCar suffered a horrendous crash on only the 12th lap in Las Vegas. Cars flew over other cars, cars flamed out on the track, cars went airborne into the catch fence. What was supposed to be the series' championship finale resulted in tragedy instead - the death of one of their most beloved and talented drivers, Dan Wheldon. Dan, who left a wife and two small children, was 33 years old.

I've always envied people, like race car drivers, who know from childhood exactly what they want. I've always thought that finding your passion early on is one of the greatest gifts life can bestow upon you, whether that passion is a place, a person or an occupation. And if that passion gives you success as it did with Dan Wheldon - IndyCar champion and double Indianapolis 500 winner - so much the better.

I've known people who, practically from the cradle, knew that their mission in life was to be a cop, a pilot, a teacher, a musician. I've known people who met their soul mate and never lost that feeling through richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. I've known people who came upon a mountain, a farm or a beach and knew they had found the place they would live for the rest of their days.

That never happened for me. I counted them up once, (and this was several jobs ago), and came up with 39 places I had worked. Many of them were totally unrelated - butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Or rather, secretary, realtor, punch press operator, chicken housemother, bartender, insurance agent, bookkeeper, legal assistant, blood-drawer. I got jobs and when I got bored with them, I drifted off to something else (this was back in the day when that was possible). I was married twice and divorced twice. I've lived in Charleston (SC), Houston (TX), Denver (CO),  Springfield (Il), Indianapolis (IN), Los Angeles (CA) and San Diego (CA) as well as many smaller communities across the U.S. I've lived on farms, in houses, apartments and hotel rooms, atop mountains and beside rivers and in the middle of large cities. No place made me say, "this is it, I'm here to stay".

None of those people, places or professions inspired a Eureka! moment for me. In the end, I was always ready to move on, to try the next thing.

I've always wondered if, as the old rock lyric declares that "it's better to burn out than to fade away". Dan Wheldon burned out doing what he loved more than anything else - going fast. Racers know that their professional mistress is dangerous, and perhaps even deadly, but they do it anyway so they must believe the reward is worth the risk, and they willingly take their chances.

I'm 65 years old now so it appears, I'll fade away. If I die doing what I enjoy most, I'll probably have a heart attack while pecking away on this keyboard. I have lots of small, treasured moments but no great over-arching triumphs in my memory bank. If I could go back and live my life over would I trade some of my 65 years for the exaltation of experiencing a grand passion like Dan Wheldon?  Would you?