Unsolicited Advice from my Avatar


In 1968 I was a junior.  At the tender age of seventeen, I considered myself completely lost.

As a fiercely independent soul, I measured my future options to be scant, too few to express any real autonomous behavior.  I faced either the draft or college.  That’s it, just two choices.

Since I stared out the window for much of high school, college was out – I didn’t have the grades to get into a decent university.  Eventually, a third option broke the horizon.  I could enlist and avoid the draft.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  I needed to flee my hometown and avoid the Army, at any cost, this much I knew.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  My hometown kicked ass back in the day.  I lived an idyllic childhood, nestled inside a tranquil community, surrounded by picturesque ponds, streams, and wooded areas.  But I’m the wandering/wondering gypsy type; I needed to roam.

The Air Force was my ticket to many wild and scary adventures.  I somehow survived them.  But it has never been lost on me that every year of my life since age twenty placed me in the bonus round.  I hovered near the abyss, and almost died on a few different occasions, during the war.  I’ve been on life’s exit ramp more than once.  I live every day of my life inside the bonus round.  And on most days, I can even feel this gratefulness.

This coming November, I will turn 73.  And as I look over my shoulder back to the year 1968, I asked myself what have I learned in the last 56 years?  Let’s create a thought experiment together.

OK, I think the question is too big, too broad.  Let me try this one, instead – what would I tell a seventeen-year-old iteration of my present-day self, knowing what I now know about both him and me?

Let’s go back in time.  After creating a situation where I could encounter my younger self, I approached him and asked if he needed a hand?  He is trying to jump-start his motorcycle, to no avail.  “It died and won’t start”, he tells me.  “It could be out of gas, I guess.  The gas gage is finicky.  That’s probably it, actually.”

I offered him a ride to the nearest gas station; he accepted.  In route, I asked him what plans he had for the future.  Or if he had ever given it any thought.

He looked at me with his head tilted slightly left as he peered at me through squinted eyes and a wrinkled-up forehead and said “I have given the matter much consideration.  But you are the first person to ever ask me that question.”

While I had his attention, I asked a follow-up question.  “Have you talked to any adults about your plans for the future?”  “No sir” was his response.  He then went on to tell me in great detail his plans for the future.  I knew in advance, obviously, that he took only his own counsel on major decisions.  And with this end in mind, I offered him some advice.

“Alan, my advice to you is for you to take, or no.  For reasons beyond your comprehension, what I am about to tell you is the complete truth.  I know your future path.  I know the various directions in which your major decisions will take you.  I know what your struggles and triumphs look like, and feel like, as well.

Alan, I must tell you that there will be times when you will falter.  There will be times, as a fighter, that you will go down.  Hard.  And you will think to yourself that you cannot possibly get up.  You will believe you are down for the count for good this time and that the game is over.

Do not believe these thoughts or emotions.  Alan, I’ve seen your future.  You always get up.  Trust yourself.  And when you waiver, for this will happen, know that even then, even when you doubt yourself, you still rise.  It’s what you do.  It’s who you are.  You are much tougher than you perceive.”

After the above exchange, we engaged in small talk the rest of the way to the station and back.  After Alan filled his tank with gas and cranked it, it eventually started.  He then promptly turned it off, turned his attention to me and said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I find this whole experience to be rather peculiar, including you, sir.  It’s true that you seem somehow otherworldly, but you don’t really know me.  I’m not that tough.  I’m not very sure of myself, either.  And I don’t view myself as a fighter.  So, your words ring callow to me kind sir.  But this one promise I will make to you and myself, going forward.  When I’m lying on the canvas, with my eyes rolled up inside my head, feeling beaten, I will remind myself that I, or something in me, always finds a way to get up and keep fighting.”

And with that, he hopped on his bike, started it, and took off.  I plan on keeping an eye out for him, going forward.  He takes too many risks, in my opinion.  He’ll tell you he’s cautious but he’s a thrill seeker at heart.  Oh, well.  I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned because he did after all make it to 72.

One of my dad’s favorite exhortations as a kid growing up was to say to me– “if you keep doing dumb shit like that son (just fill in the blank because I probably tried it) then you won’t live long enough to scratch an old head.”  Haha, assuming that 72 is old – I showed him!  I just passed Go, collected my $200, turned right at the square, and I am currently headed for another complete trip around the Sun.

If you could travel back in time and visit your high-school self, what words of wisdom would you have for him/her?