Biff America: Moments, memories, advice to myself
Special to the Daily
It was a box of memories, compiled almost three-dozen years ago, by a man who died too soon.
I was one of several who located his body under 8 feet of snow. It gave me nightmares for years after; I’m sure I was not alone. This man was married and loved. There is little doubt, my grief paled when compared with that of his mate and family.
Depending on your spiritual perspective Tim McClure is either in heaven or simply a lingering memory of an amazing man. Not a saint but certainly a visionary and someone who changed his community — even the state — for the better.
Many of those who were there when Tim, Steve and Jackson were dug out from that avalanche are still here in this mountain town. The photos of some of them were included in the box of memories given to me by Tim’s wife.
Our paths don’t often cross anymore. But when they do, I see them as a composite of the people they are now and how they looked that day as, with wet eyes, we glanced at one another across a snow pit. I think we all knew our lives would never be exactly the same as they were only hours before.
I looked through those photos — of friends, strangers and myself — and shed some tears, not only mourning for my friend’s passing but also in gratitude that I was there then and am still standing.
“Youth is wasted on the young.” So said George Bernard Shaw.
The photos seemed to have been taken during the last year of my friend’s life. As I looked at them there was no denying the changes time claims on a face and body. It is also safe to say the ensuing years have, hopefully, made us wiser.
There was one photo in particular, taken at a Nordic ski race in Wisconsin, of me squinting and smiling in the early-morning cold. I found myself wondering what I would say to that younger version of myself if that cocky yet clueless guy in the picture could hear my advice.
First thing I would tell myself is that despite appearances you and your friends are not immortal. I would caution myself that not only stupidity and carelessness can kill you but also just bad luck and genetics. I would remind myself to not take life or those you love for granted.
As I looked at that photo of a young man in his late 20s, I would tell him this about romance. When it comes to love/lust, beauty is neither deserved nor reflective of anything but hereditary happenstance. I would caution him not to place too high a premium on appearances. “Old me” would remind “young me” that a pretty face and a tight body will fade over the years, but character, intelligence, compassion and a sense of humor do not.
In terms of finance, I would tell my former self to know the difference between “want” and “need,” and that there will be many things you’ll want but much less you will need to be happy. By the same token I would remind young Jeffrey that he will have less control over what he makes as he will over how much he spends.
I would also caution him that for the next 20 years, the stupidest things he will do will usually be when he has been drinking, adding that most people don’t remember the smart things you did decades later.
I would remind myself that girlfriends come and go but fever blisters tend to linger.
Also I would give him the bad news that he will never feel as strong, fast or ache-free as he does at that moment. But I’d add that stiff joints and being slower of foot are a fair price to pay for the perspective and appreciation that comes from decades of reflection.
But mostly I would tell him he has an amazing 30-plus years ahead. He will find a career that pays him to do something that comes naturally. He will make some wonderful friends — and some of them he will lose too quickly. But most important, he will find love for someone who will make him aspire to be less of a jerk.
I was in my own world as I looked at that old photo, my face wet with tears of regret and joy. My mate came up behind me and looked over my shoulder.
I said, “That’s me in my 20s.”
She took a long look, put her arm around my shoulder and responded, “Oh, my God! You haven’t changed a bit. You had lots of wrinkles back then, too.”
One additional nugget of advice to the young me. Even if you ignore all the other stuff, find someone to love who makes you laugh and the rest will fall into place.
Jeffrey Bergeron, aka Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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