Taking out the garbage

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to take out the garbage.

I’m pretty sure that applies to women too. “Women are a completely different race,” the memorable Dan told us one evening at a café in downtown Toronto’s old “village” many years ago. My old friend Roger nodded his head right away in laughing, enthusiastic approval, thus further reinforcing Dan’s feeling he was “a very bright boy,” which he was.  I also understood at the time it was an ironic comment not intended to be taken literally. Today I’ll just say I’m still only starting to scratch the surface of understanding what it means to be a man; but women remain much more of a mystery, and I won’t presume to speak for them about taking out their garbage, or not.

Back then in the summer of 1962 five or six of us from the North York suburbs got into the habit of riding our motorcycles down through the city to that café off Bay Street one or two evenings a week. That’s where we met Dan, a man-of-the-world with a pronounced European accent.  He was a rather short, middle-aged man who drove a little Nash Metropolitan. He told us in an off-handed way, like it didn’t mean much, that he ran a travel business. Otherwise, he was a man of mystery. It didn’t take us long even then to figure even if he was really in the travel business it was likely a front for something a lot more interesting.

Maybe he was lonely. Maybe it amused him to hold court with a group of young men who enjoyed talking about serious things, like motorcycles and the fate of the world. Or maybe he was just trying to talk his way through Friday. It was most likely a combination of all those things that drew him to us.

At any event, Dan was an intelligent man who had acquired a pretty good store of hard-won philosophical wisdom he seemed to enjoy sharing with us for whatever reason. Not that he was overly talkative; on the contrary, Dan would sit and listen for a long time as we solved the world’s problems, as oh-so-serious young men do. At some point he would lean forward, put his elbows on the table, and say, “boys, I tell you something.” At such moments we gave him our full attention.

“You can change history. You can create your own destiny.”

But first, Dan advised, take five years and dedicate yourself to becoming financially independent, so you have the freedom to do that more important thing.

He told us a story about a man who had started out to do that, but instead of limiting himself to just five years to make a lot of money he allowed himself to be taken captive by greed and the pursuit of wealth; and it corrupted him. So the man essentially lost himself, and failed to do the better, even great, things he might have done with his life.

I think we all realized Dan was talking about himself. Thinking about him again now I can see his was a  tragic story, that by then he had already made and lost the fortune that had cost him his soul; maybe more than once.

So, he was unburdening himself, but also perhaps getting some sense of personal redemption by offering a group of idealistic young men about to begin their journey through life the gift of his wisdom.

Oh, on second thought I don’t know. Dan might laugh to hear me say that, if he were here. He’s long gone of course; or perhaps looking over my shoulder.

Anyway, about the garbage:

I think it’s fair to say most of us get a lot of stuff put in our heads, and put a lot of stuff in our heads, that we’d be way better off without. Somehow or another, in the best of all possible, personal worlds, for our own sakes, and for the sake of those whose paths we might cross, we need to try to figure out how to, as I say, put out the garbage.

You may be one of those lucky people who know that’s easier said than done. I say lucky because you’ve at least thought about that, as I have. So, first thing, don’t be too hard on yourself, give yourself some credit; the burden you carry is enough already, don’t add to it.

This is all about becoming who you really are, getting free to be.

It’s about affirming your worth, restoring your innocence. And perhaps most of all it’s about believing it’s okay to do that. It’s more than okay: it’s written, in the stars, if you like. And that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Best to start the process of putting out the garbage when you’re young and free, before life gets too complicated. Otherwise, you may find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances to the extent that you forget all about it, or simply are never in the right space long enough. But don’t make the mistake Dan apparently made and think it’s too late to get right.

I’m getting old, or rather older, and I don’t think so.

At some point, life being what it is, you may find yourself with an opportunity to do yourself a favour and simplify your circumstantial life. That’s not the same as putting out the garbage, but it’s more than likely an important step in that direction, though maybe not absolutely essential. Depends who you are. Who am I to say, how good you are as a juggler? But generally speaking I’ll venture to advise simplicity is a good thing.

So, find yourself a place that feels right, a simple uncluttered place that’s easy to manage. Take a breath, relax, and be still.

I’m not entirely sure – I’m just getting started myself – but I have a sense there’s no science to this really. Just let it go, don’t worry. Let the moment or the moments take you where they will. If someone needs your help, give it. If someone calls to chat, do it. If a task calls out to be done, like snow-blowing the driveway, or cultivating the field, seize that moment too as an opportunity to discover what it means to live in the moment.

That’s where it begins.

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