I just sat down to organize my thoughts and share the events of the past few days… here, as a matter of fact. I had a plan: an agenda, and then the phone rang.
I don’t know about you, but I get distracted easily – there are times I don’t mind. But, when time is at a premium and I have a laundry list of things to do – which is most of the time – and, Lesley is busy getting ready for the holidays with her own laundry list of things to do which often conflicts with mine (any man reading this who is married or in a committed relationship knows whose list will take precedence…), it can be a problem. Nevertheless, I answered the phone. It was our son, Ryan, who is his post-L.A. Marathon Iron Man training ‘leave of absence,’ at least until tomorrow. He was calling from the South Bay and you could here giggling in the background and the excitement in his voice. He had just asked his young lady to marry him…
Now, the fact that he asked couldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who knows them… they’ve been through hell and back trying to define the nature of their relationship and having made it across the ribbon of hot coals they were forced to cross, it was a given they would be together. The surprise was the “when” and “how” of it.
Ryan is at heart a romantic of the first magnitude… In many ways, I guess I am as well. The difference is that Ryan has style. I’m not sure the same can be said for me. I’ve always been too busy trying to figure out how to get from here to there without destroying myself in the process: an ongoing theme throughout my life. So, where Ryan planned an incredibly clever and convoluted subterfuge in order to surprise our future daughter-in-law, I asked his mother to spend the rest of her life with me in what was, perhaps, the most lame and awkward manner on record.
After establishing a meaningful relationship over the most intense six weeks of my life, and then recognizing the thought of Lesley in school four hundred and fifty miles north of L.A. and possibly dating someone else was unbearable – I decided to act. For anyone else, that would have involved ‘a plan.’ Anyone who knows me… or, knew me at that time in my life, would tell you that I was absolutely incapable of formulating anything that even remotely looked like a plan, let alone disciplined enough to carry one out. Instead, I fumbled around trying to explain how I felt – something I’m still not especially good at anyway – until Lesley finally took matters into her own hands and asked me what the hell I was talking about!
I told her I didn’t want her dating someone else while she was away – that I couldn’t bear the thought of it. The unanswered question hanging in the air was what exactly did that mean. I fumbled around some more until it became obvious to anyone but me, that I was asking Lesley to become involved in what today would be considered a “committed relationship.”
I’m not sure that I was sure what that meant as we discussed it, but I know Lesley did. I stuttered and stammered my way through asking Lesley if she wanted to “go steady,” which would qualify as “World-Class Lame” by today’s standards, and Lesley’s only question was… “You mean for the rest of our lives?”
I didn’t think about what she was asking… or, what that meant: not for a second. I answered with a “Yeah… I guess so.” Or, something equally as awkward, knowing that the thought of being without her had become unthinkable. Her reply was classic, “You mean for the rest of our lives?” And, my response was equally as articulate, “Yeah… I guess so.”
It wasn’t especially romantic. But, in retrospect, it’s pretty apparent that forty years later it was the right answer.
Now, my eldest son (only son, actually…) is engaged. He is as happy as I have ever seen him… less confused than I was when I realized that I had inadvertently asked his mother to marry me… but, happy nonetheless.
It is a milestone… both for Ryan and Stephanie, and for their respective families: and, like so many of life’s milestones, it just appears as we stumble through life. There is no map. There is no accompanying set of instructions. There is no plan, at least none that anyone can depend on. Life isn’t that simple. Nor, is it predictable. Most of the time, it just ‘is.’ All that is really important is that you mark these moments appropriately. They are a big part of who we are when they happen. But, perhaps, more important, these milestones are a bigger part of who we can become as life unfolds beyond them.
There was no one in the universe less prepared to become engaged at the end of the summer in 1968 than I was. I’m not sure there was anyone less prepared to get married a year-and-a-half later, either. But, I can also tell you without hesitation there was no one in the universe more determined to ensure that it would work once the commitment was made: that it would be ‘good,’ and that it would last, than I was.
And, maybe that’s what milestones are all about… stopping to mark where you are when they occur, and then making a commitment to the journey that lies ahead: wherever that may take you and despite the obstacles life is likely to place in your way.
There is one other thing, I guess; something I’d like to share with both my kids and their ‘significant others’ as they get ready for their “next logical steps:” something I’ve discovered along my journey. Milestones are important for another reason. They are important because they are almost always associated with decisions: big decisions, important decisions, decisions that help define the legacy you leave for those who will follow as you move through life.
When you are young, just starting out and fighting your way through life, legacies are the last thing you are likely to think about. As you get older and receive phone calls like the one Lesley and I just received, legacies are just about all you think about…