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Travel with me Along My Red Dirt Road: A Moment with Bill Reflection
Along My Red Dirt Road
“It's where I drank my first beer.
It's where I found Jesus.
Where I wrecked my first car:
I tore it all to pieces.
I learned the path to Heaven,
Is full of sinners an' believers.
Learned that happiness on earth,
Ain't just for high achievers.
I've learned; I come to know,
There's life at both ends,
Of that red dirt road.”
My thanks to Brooks & Dunn for the lyrics from their smash hit “Red Dirt Road.”
Sixty-five years, seven months and one day….that’s how long I’ve been stumbling along this path. I swear, folks, I have no clue where the time has gone.
I remember so clearly playing 500 with friends on those lazy, Saturday afternoons when we were fifteen.
I remember so clearly sprawling on the grass, watching the clouds drift by, and wondering what the future held in store for me.
I remember so clearly my first job, my first love and the first death of a loved one.
Sixty-five years, seven months and one day…..and how much time is left? How many more smiles to be smiled, kisses to be kissed, and heartaches to endure?
It’s Where I Drank My First Beer
If I had known then what I know now, would I have taken that first sip of my dad’s beer when I was ten?
Life is filled with those little moments that are seemingly unimportant. We come to a crossroad, and we cannot possibly understand the importance of them as we approach. How could we? There are no warning signs. There are no flashing red lights telling us to cease and desist. They are innocent in appearance and yet so meaningful.
Sitting on the front steps of my grandparents’ home, a hot summer afternoon, my Dad, my Uncle Jim, and me, ten years old and craving that illusion of manhood.
“Can I have a sip, Dad?”
“Sure, but just one small one now, son. We don’t want it going to your head.”
And so it began.
As surely as the sun will rise in the east, that one small sip eventually led to alcoholism, and years of misery, and moments of intense self-hatred….which eventually led to self-awareness and a new path, a path of happiness and contentment.
So was that one sip the beginning of disaster, or was it the beginning of serenity?
It’s Where I Found Jesus
I was baptized and raised a Catholic. Off to Catholic school now, Billy, and remember to be polite to those nuns, because they love you as Jesus does. I became an altar boy, sang in the choir, knelt and genuflected as all good Catholics do, and believed that the way of Jesus was the way of love.
I had my ass kicked by neighborhood Protestant bullies who saw my salt-and-pepper slacks and green sweater as a symbol of Catholicism, and thus a symbol of something to be despised, my first lesson in fear-based anger. For a time I contemplated the priesthood, for Father Clark was a good man and I wished to be good as well.
And for a time I hated God for taking my father away from me when I was nineteen, and for causing so much unhappiness in my life, only to realize that I am not a helpless leaf blown by the winds of time, but rather a fully-functioning human being with free will and the talents necessary to overcome it all.
Where I Wrecked My First Car
Seventeen years old and full of piss and vinegar. Being careful was for old ladies and the terminally-scared. At seventeen you are bulletproof, and traffic laws were for sissies.
Until I scraped the paint off of my dad’s ’62 Mercury by drifting too far right and side-swiping a parked car….driving home after that little mishap was humbling to say the least. Enduring the wrath of my father and the ensuing grounding was the price to be paid for hubris, and I paid it and learned from it.
I suspect my dad learned a similar lesson at some point during his youth. We all do. Growing up means learning, at times, the hard way. No words of wisdom, or proclamations of caution by parents, can prevent us from doing the unimaginable and flaunting our misguided independence.
Some lessons must be paid for with blood, sweat, tears and a shattering of ego.
The Path to Heaven Filled with Sinners and Believers
It was so cut-and-dried as a child. The Ten Commandments gave us the one, true path. Follow the word of God and all will be well, and eternal salvation will be ours. So the Good Book said. And we nodded our heads as children, and we proclaimed our understanding of it all, and then we went out into the world and discovered that black-and-white truths could be colorfully ambiguous.
Good men killed in battle. Bad men saved lives. Liars gave to charities, and deacons of the church cheated on their wives. “Red is grey and yellow white, and we decide which is right, and which is an illusion.” Suddenly, the truths were a bit muddled, and you couldn’t tell the bad guys from the good without a scorecard and a decoder ring.
I am reminded today of a quote that is often attributed to the Crusade under Pope Innocent III. It goes something like this: “Kill them all and let God sort it out.” When it comes to judging who is a sinner and who is a believer, I choose to leave it to much more qualified beings than me.
Happiness on Earth Ain’t Just for High Achievers
Which are you, a low achiever or a high achiever?
We start on this road to achievement at such a young age. The hierarchy is established and the rules have been determined by the time we pop out of the birth canal. Go to school, get good grades, excel in sports, work harder than anyone else, and success will be yours. If 3.5 is a good gpa then 3.75 is outstanding, and heaven help those ignorant fools who are only average.
But heaven has no horse in this race, nor a wager on it, so we really are judging ourselves by some imaginary standard that means absolutely nothing.
I worked as hard as I wanted. I could turn it up a notch when the mood hit me, and I could gear it down just as easily. My grades reflected my casual attitude. I had moments of triumph, and moments of dismal defeat. At a young age the triumphs are sweet indeed, and the defeats are crushing, but as we grow older we come to realize that none of it is important. The number of trophies on my mantel has no bearing on the type of person that I am. The size of my bankroll in no way determines whether I can be trusted, believed, or loved.
In other words, happiness is an inside job.
Thanks for Tagging Along with Me
“I went out into the world,
An' I came back in.
I lost Mary:
Oh, I got her back again.
An' drivin' home tonight,
Feels like I've found a long-lost friend.”
Sixty-five years, seven months and one day….what a trip it has been…and it ain’t over yet.
Every single new day gives me an opportunity to experience life as it was meant to be experienced, balls-out with tail-feathers singed as I get as close as possible to the sun.
Every single new day is a gift to be appreciated, embraced and celebrated.
So enough of this. Strap on your backpack, lace up your shoes, and head out to your own personal red dirt road. I hope your journey is as wondrous as mine has been.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)