It was early on I thought that the meaning of life was simple enough to be found in song lyrics. Thanks to Harrison paying for Rhapsody Music service, I downloaded an album last Saturday that I had not heard in almost 30 years. I had “The Safety Dance” on an 80’s compilation. But the whole Men Without Hats album, Rhythm of Youth had not played in my head since I had listened to it on my first generation Walkman® almost 30 years ago. Sometimes I would just lie in bed on a warm afternoon listening and contemplating the lyrics. I thought they spoke to the world and to me about loneliness, regret, nuclear war, and the meaning of life.
This last Saturday I listened to the album again on my iPod, technology that would have been inconceivable in 1983. In 1983 I hoped that in 30 years I would be a famous actor/writer/director like Alan Alda. If anyone had told me I would be a janitor I would have been heartbroken. If they told me I would be married with kids I would have been incredulous. You could, however have told me that a meteor would slam into my hometown and level buildings and kill half the world population. I would have embraced the idea of aliens coming to Earth. By 1983 I was finally beginning to accept that I didn’t belong in outer space with them. But you could have come up to me in February 1983 a week or so before my 16th birthday and told me that in 30 years, magnificent flying saucers would alight on Maui and approach me, apologize for taking so long and then let me fly a ship of my own home.
But God forbid you would have told me I worked for a church as a custodian, didn’t believe in aliens, and was married and had five children. And the most unbelievable thing of all that I would have vehemently denied, that I loved my life that way.
I’m listening to Rhythm of Youth as I write this right now. The B-sides never played on the radio have esoteric lyrics that made sense to me then, but not as much now. And maybe this is why: Back then, my imagination would conjure up meaning to fit things. I felt like I didn’t belong, so I must have been a displaced alien. Never mind that most teenagers feel like that sometimes and I was no exception. The reality was harder to accept. I was a teenager like thousands of others who had to cope with being an outsider. I wanted to be accepted but felt ashamed of wanting that. I wanted to be an actor, aloof and wealthy. People would like me then and I could choose whether or not to reciprocate.
So I lived outside of reality as much as I could. And as far as I was concerned, I would never enter into the real world. No, 1983 David, I know you won’t believe me, but in 30 years you will find utter joy in waking up early and feeding chickens. You will find fulfillment in being a husband and father. And you will own a mobile device not much bigger than a deck of playing cards that can play music, videos, and access just about any information in the world. You will use it to listen to actors just like you wish to be reading books. And you will listen to a digital version of this very music that you own on cassette tape. And here’s the thing 1983 David: you won’t care so much about the meaning of life. It is not a holy grail to be discovered. If you could only trust God now, today… not make those bad choices later on…
Never mind, he’s not listening. He’ll go ahead and deny reality for another few decades. He will come around eventually.