London versus Bolivia
I watched “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" the other night. About 2/3 of the way through, the two loveable outlaws have reached the end of their rope. Their two backs literally to a cliff, overhanging a 100 foot drop into a gorge of raging river water, they decide to jump as opposed to surrendering to the Super Posse that has been hired to kill them and had tracked them to this untenable position. The most famous cinematic leap in the history of film saved their lives.
For a while.
Resurfacing days later on foot at the cabin of Redford's love interest, Catherine Ross, the two men decide to escape to Bolivia and invite Ross to go with them. She replies positively if not fatalistically, but concludes with this one final, telling, yet morbid caveat to her acceptance: "...I won't watch you die. I'll skip that scene if you don't mind."
The two men refuse to look at each other as they turn away and stare into the distance, tasting of themselves down in the catacombs of their souls, as the specter of their own mortality was finally on the table, put there by a woman who loved them both, yet refuses to watch them die.
Anybody who has seen the movie knows how it turns out. After a brief, but relatively successful stint at robbing the rural, unsophisticated Bolivian banks, they discover that the Super Posse has also managed to take a steamship to South America, and once again would be pursuing them.
Sensing the beginning of the end, Ross goes back home to the states. The men let her go, sensing it is probably safer for her, yet realizing her exit is not only her farewell, but an acknowledgment that their final scene, literally and figuratively, is imminent.
Though in love and excited about my next journey and my next relationship, and the next stage of my life, this movie brought to my conscious mind a powerful metaphor. When Redford and Newman went to Bolivia, was there any inkling in either man that they would never return? That they were going to die in Bolivia? Ross certainly had entertained the idea before they even went to South America. And now, true to her word, she was not going to take her front row seat at their demise.
And now I am contemplating that same idea before I go to London. Not obsessively, just an inner acknowledgment that death is never far from any of us.
Thinking of my own mortality is hardly groundbreaking stuff for me. I finger my navel all the time, often ask the big “Is this all there is?”-type questions about life, and wondering how steeped I will be in regret if I am lucky enough to be conscious when I die.
It’s not morbid to think like that. I’m reflective and in fact, have wholeheartedly embraced that part of me for most of my life. I try not to cherry pick what to think about, and what to ignore or remain in denial about. I plow ahead into issues like my mortality with the same fervor, ardor and enthusiasm that I read a good book, or watch a great game or share a cold beer with a friend while discussing politics.
It’s the way I approach things. With no apologies. It isn’t always fun, but it is never boring.
One big difference between my journey to London and Butch and Sundance’s retreat to Bolivia, is that I am running TOWARD, not from, someone. I am choosing to make this move with a clear head, a clear heart, and a fundamental realization that this could be the greatest opportunity and adventure of my 52 years. And she and I will make it happen.
Of course, life has taught me many lessons, most of them painful, but one comes bubbling to the surface often these days: there are no guarantees.
I approached both of my marriages as if the vows taken, the ceremonies performed, the “first dance song” chosen, somehow ensured a life of happiness. Marriage meant forever, right?
Most of us now know that is complete bullshit. But I never lost my desire for commitment and monogamy and fidelity. I simply realized that the certificate was useless. It was symbolic, but vulnerable….like ALL of us.
But my idealism NEVER faded. To this day, that both stuns me and excites me. It is what I bring across the pond to my new love. My idealism….now tempered with experience, pragmatism, and not draped with silly puppy love ideas of a candy-coated world of picnics. Life is messy…so will be our picnics….making love on a picnic can be fun, no?
Yet, I sat there as the closing credits scrolled over my two favorite actors, frozen in time and on film, alive forever in our imaginations.
I thought immediately of my death.
And I started to cry.
It took two glasses of wine before I could figure it out.
I realized I was going to where I wanted; to be with whom I wanted to be with, and if I died there, what could be better?
I have very little anger or resentment left in my bones about family, life, friends come and gone, high school, my career (such as it was), and lost loves.
Some residual sadness lingers. Clearly, my regrets will continue to grow until I visit the ultimate pine box for the final journey to nowhere,
However, regrets wage a continual battle in my soul with many great, smile-inducing memories. I don’t know who will win that race. I literally don’t care. Life is only full if it involves both.
But I will accept whatever that final tally is.
I choose life.
As a Rayburn male, that makes me somewhat unique.