I pass a regional high school on the tail end of my commute to work every day.
ConVal Regional High School.
Legend has it the school's name is derived from the truth that most of the grads will either end up in prison or medicating their way through life on valium.
Anyway, there is a stop light right at the end of the driveway entrance to the school. Two lanes of traffic - one on the left for automatons like me to continue on to work, one on the right for students to peel off into the school parking lot.
Many times I sit at the red light with a car full of students to my right. A fascinating dichotomy.
I sit there wondering what I have done with my life and agonizing over whether I will have a chance to redeem myself. They sit there laughing and plotting where and when they can smoke a secretive joint.
I sit there full up on knowledge and experience acquired after surviving 62 years on this planet. Knowledge and experience that I have made little use of in the quest to liberate my soul.
They sit there without a clue. No knowledge of how important education is, no concept of how confusing and cold life can be, absolutely no perception of how fast life blows by.
I was them 45 years ago. They will be me in 45 years.
I have lost a lot of the spontaneity and sense of humor, the recklessness and sense of freedom and abandon I had when I was their age.
I miss it.
It becomes so obvious to me when I look over and see them laughing, or hear them laughing on warm days, music blasting, souls soaring.
It seems so natural. So obviously natural.
Up until recently it was a painful thing for me to sit next to these youth. It felt like an indictment of my own failures and weaknesses and mistakes; a blazing hot judgment of the sheer stupidity of wasting time, wasting a life.
Now that I am retiring I see things differently.
I feel like I am right back where they are, right back where I was between 1968 and 1972.
Feels like I have been handed a clean slate. A chance to do it over and get it right this time.
Might seem strange to compare myself to high school kids at my age but the reality as I see it is that I have not made much progress in my life professionally since graduating high school. I have spent the last 44 years doing things I don't want to do. Things I don't like to do. Things that have ripped my soul to shreds and insulted my intelligence.
Things I have accepted and not rebelled against except in an immature way. Not making significant changes when the opportunities arose.
I am lucky to be in the position I am in with the awareness that I have.
Many people my age would look at high school kids and ominously say "Just wait. You will find out pretty quick that life is not a joke."
I say "Have fun. Have fun every chance you get. Find a way to keep having fun throughout your life."
I definitely smile a lot more now when I am sitting in line on my way to work and I hear the laughter.