Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Old Dogs, Children and Trains

By Mike Layne

There comes a point in our lives when, despite our best efforts to ignore the evidence, we're forced to admit that we are in fact getting a little older.  A gray hair here, a wrinkle there and before you know it we're saying things like "well, back when I was a kid" and "darn kids these days".   When we think about the ways we've changed over the years, it's convenient to say things like 'wisdom comes with age', but in reality what happens is more subtle.  We become more aware of the passing of time, of things lost and lessons learned.  Successes and failures mold us into older wiser versions of the children we once were, and yet somewhere along the way something important is lost.   Lately I've been thinking about the difference between things in life that are real and things that are not.  That's a lot to tackle in one blog post, I realize, but stay with me.

In our super-connected world of information and globalization, it's ironic that our society is in danger of loosing our connection with the things in life that really matter.   Every hour of every day we receive a relentless barrage of marketing and political propaganda.   So much in fact, that the lines anchoring us to reality become stretched and frayed.  Relevant things are pushed aside to make room for progress, change and the other stories they tell us.  Marketers want us to believe nine out of ten dentists really do prefer the latest tooth paste.   That adding batteries to a regular razor gives you a closer shave and last summer’s colors are simply not fashionable this year.   Politicians want us to believe in phrases like ‘too big to fail’ and that it takes a 4 trillion dollar budget to keep America running.  The common denominator is this; none of it is real.  Economies are built on perceptions of value and can crumble in the time it takes us to eat our breakfast.  Marketers will stretch the limits of credulity, enshrining consumerism in the pursuit of profit.  And in this sea of fabricated realities, or if you prefer 'lies', what becomes of the the things that are real?  Do we remember what they are, what they look like, the way they make us feel?  How will we show them to our children?  Here’s what I think.
Sunset in St. Thomas
Sunset in St. Thomas

Real things are timeless, immeasurable.  Their value transcends material worth.  They are things we can touch and things we cannot.  They inspire us to dream, to think, to feel, and if we let them, they impact our lives in profound and lasting ways we only truly understand as we grow older.  A few examples, so we know how to recognize real things when we see them.

The wispy way steam rises off the water at daybreak, with the earthy scents of moss and pine needles thick in the air.  The rush of cool air that sometimes comes just before dawn.  Birds in the background mix songs with the sound of running water and sunlight slides slowly down the trunks of trees.  These things are real.

Sunrise and sunset, an introduction and a farewell, they’re the bookends that hold the contents of our
days.  They are a quiet time made for contemplation and coffee, for romance and reflection.  They smell like tobacco and old leather or candles and home cooked breakfast.  They come every day, and how many times do we really slow down to see them?  We should make a point to because they are real.

Campfires are real.  The smell of wood smoke, the flickering flames.  They touch some primitive thing deep inside us that whispers of warmth and survival, of caves and hearth fires.  The smoke pulls us in and the embers in-trance us in a way nothing else can.

Railroad tracks at Valley Falls State Park
Railroad tracks at Valley Falls State Park
Trains are real.  As real as cowboys and cattle cars, Colt 45s and Kentucky Bourbon.  Has any other mechanical thing fueled the imagination of so many generations?  Trains connected our coasts, built our economy, enabled our wars and carried our families. Their rails are the backbone our nation was built on, their whistles cry a song of history and freedom.

Old dogs are real.  Growing up in Pocahontas County, we lived next door to my sister and her family.  They had a basset hound named Sam.  Sam was, in the truest sense of the phrase, a ‘community dog’.  For more than 15 years Sam walked a daily route through our neighborhood.   Everyone knew him, everyone fed him and everyone loved him.  You can still see his paths worn into the dirt.  It’s been close to 15 years now since Sam left us and to this day people still tell stories about him with a nostalgic smile.  Old dogs hold a wisdom in their eyes far beyond their years and they teach us the value of loyalty. 

Children are perhaps the realest of all things real.  Born with no prejudice, no preconceived notions and only two natural fears, children love unconditionally.  They represent us at our very best.   If we let them, they’ll teach us to see through the eyes of children again, to experience the wonders and joys that come so natural to them.

So pet an old dog today.  Ride a train or watch the sun as it sets behind the hills.  Teach your children and let them teach you and together we'll all move a little closer to the things in life that are real.

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