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THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

I remember the night as though it happened only last week. Halloween 2003. I was at a warehouse party with a few friends. Drinks flowed. Ecstasy got passed around. Music blared. Dancing. Laughing. Good times.

But if you have ever taken ecstasy you are probably familiar with the drug's tendency to bring out the softer, reflective side in your personality. And so it happened with me and my high school friend and to this day best pal, Pete, that night way back when. Which was funny, considering how macho and manly my dear beer-swilling, jiu-jitsu grappling, Bronco-driving, power-lifting buddy Pete prides himself to be. In the midst of all the laughing and dancing, the general ballyhoo, we found ourselves immersed in a deep conversation of the meaning of life, and the possibilities for the future.

Pete was in a serious relationship with his girlfriend of nearly 7 years, Eva. She is now his wife. He told me of his plans to marry her. I myself was in a rather long-term (for me) relationship with my then girlfriend, Shannon, and Pete asked me to "take that step" with him. We could have a joint wedding, he suggested, raise our kids close-by, be Little League coaches together, just as we had once been teammates on Jon Welch's Pirates back in the day. Good times. I mumbled something about not being financially solvent. Pete was (and is). He had just built his own apartment complex where he lived as landlord. I was teaching high school, moonlighting as an ESL instructor, trying to get my screenwriting career off the ground, and going nowhere but working hard and growing tired. Sure, I made decent money (around $50,000 before taxes and retirement) but rather spendthrift at the time not only had I not managed to save a cent, I had actually accrued a bit of credit card debt. I live much more simply now, but then I had a $1,100 in rent and nearly $600 in car payments with which to contend.

At around this point in our dialogue, Pete paid me one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. He said to me, "Dude, you are the smartest guy I know. There has to be something you can do with your life. To you know, be a success." Perhaps it was a little backhanded. Anyway, I took those words to heart and enrolled in medical school. To, you know, challenge myself. Do something with my life. This required me to leave the security of my home town, sell my car, give up my apartment, and witness the inevitable end of my romantic relationship.

At my farewell dinner, Pete congratulated me on my decision, which was more than he would ever do, although going to the West Indies to medical school was not what he had in mind when he suggested I "do something." Gone were our dreams of raising families together. But they were really his dreams anyway.

The years that followed took me to a tropical island, to the bowels of the American south in Houma Louisiana, and to the bitter winters of Denver for medical residency. When I finally returned home, roughly 6 years after Pete and I had that drug-fueled heart-to-heart, life was different. I was different. So were my friends. Pete and Eva had married. They now have three kids and are fixing to move into their first house together. My then galpal Shannon is now the proud mother of three children herself. Most of my other friends are on the same page. Spouse and kids. Even my two closest buds from high school, DJ and Jason, both of whom I always thought would be unattached for life, together embody yet another example of the American dream. Last I checked DJ was engaged and Jason had a son.

As for me, I'm a sort of fish out of water. My lifestyle is that of someone half my age, it is the life I lived when I was half my age, a college student unattached and unaffiliated, footloose and fancy free. But it can be lonely when you don't fit in much with your contemporaries. Although I have become my own best friend, and what adventures!



Writing about travel, the author Kent Nerburn (thanks Kerstin) has this to say:

"You may wake one day and find that you have become a runner who uses travel as an escape from the problems and complications of trying to build something with your life. You may find that you have stayed away one hour or one day or one month too long and that you no longer belong anywhere or to anyone. You may find that you have been caught by the lure of the road and that you are a slave to dissatisfaction with any life that forces you to stay in one place.

"But how much worse is it to be someone whose dreams have been buried beneath the routines of life and who no longer has an interest in looking beyond the horizon?"

Comforting words these.

The Hindu scriptures, in discussing the stages of life, refer to three distinct avenues following one's days as a student. These are householder, wandering monk, or a life of retirement. To put it in context, these texts were written thousands of years ago. Not many other options back then. Simplicity is often best. And while most people choose the life of householder, I opted instead to wander the world, though certainly not as a monk, considering all the drinking and whoring I've done. And now I lead a life of retirement. There is a place for so-called contemplatives, and authors such as Aldous Huxley urge that there be more of these earnest seekers of Truth. You need not be of senior-citizen age to apply. Qualifications?

The Srimad Bhagavatam has this to say about the contemplative, or the one leading a life of quiet reflection: "He who is calm and feels the same towards all beings is a free soul. His wisdom is profound, and his simplicity is childlike."

Contemplative. It may not make you monetarily wealthy, but it's as good a job as any. If interested, inquire within.

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