LOOKOUT POINT

tejonranch2-1973 med hr

6 August 2020

 I was sitting atop a granite cliff, looking out over the land below. But it was wrong, somehow; the view was more expansive than it should have been, like I was in an airplane looking down on the land. At the same time, every part of the picture was as sharp and clear as if I was right down there on the ground, standing everywhere all at once.

   “Quite a view,” opined the man sitting next to me – a man, by the way, who I’m pretty sure hadn’t been there a moment ago. A quick look told me that he was about my own age, and (like me) pretty unremarkable, otherwise.

   “It is,” I said, “but it doesn’t seem quite right. It’s both bigger and clearer than I usually think of it.”

   “Perspective,” rejoined the man, “One more chance to see things as they really were.”

   “Wait! ‘One more chance… As they really were.’ Are you saying that I’m dead?”

   “Well, you’re saying it but, yes, dead as a door nail.”

   As I looked around, I found that really wasn’t much of a surprise. “I’ve just been noticing that this cliff we’re on isn’t connected to anything, which must be some kind of giveaway. Funny, I had expected Heaven to be lusher and greener, and Hell to be browner and hotter. Am I in one of those places, or at some way-station, like in the sci-fi books?”

   “’Beats the hell – or heaven – out of me! I don’t know anything about any of those places.”

   “So, where did you come from? Are you some kind of angel?”

   The man looked around us. “Frankly, I have no idea where I came from, although I’m pretty sure I’m not an angel. I just seem to have appeared. I have a feeling that I’m someone who left just a short time before you did, and I’m here to give you someone to tell your last thoughts to.”

   “’Last thoughts.’ That seems pretty final. Am I not coming back as another man – or a woman, or a cockroach, or a toadstool? Don’t I get a chance to chat with God, or at least St. Peter?”

   “Not as far as I know.” The man paused, as if he was listening to someone else. “Well, I suddenly  seem to have some questions that I need to ask – sort of an exit interview, I guess. Are you up for it?”

   “Why not? I don’t seem to have anything else I’m supposed to do.”

*  *  *

   “So, tell me, how were your last days?”

   “Sad, confusing, frustrating, disappointing. There was so much going on, and yet nothing happening.”

   “Were you sick a long time?”

   “No, I wasn’t physically sick, at all. It’s just that the Corona lockdown continued for so long, and everything was so uncertain, I wouldn’t be surprised if all that stress took a year or so off my life.”

   “Corona lockdown? What’s that?”

   “You mean, you don’t know about the pandemic? Did you die before then?”

   “No, to the first; I don’t know, to the second. Remember, I don’t rememberanything from down there. I’m just here to listen to you… Wait a minute.” The man seemed to be listening to someone else, again. “Okay, let’s leave the pandemic for later. Can you tell me about your biggest disappointments in life?”

   That kind of threw me off my game. I had to think. “Well, I never really liked my name…”

   “And that was a big disappointment to you?”

   “No, not really. I’m just trying to gather my thoughts.” Yep, ‘gathering my thoughts’ is exactly what I was trying to do. I didn’t seem to have a lot to gather. “Big disappointments? I don’t know. I never had a ‘bucket list;’ you know, a bunch of things I wanted to do before I died. I never wanted to sky dive. I had no interest in climbing El Capitan without a rope. Places to go?  I liked to travel, and I’d been in 49 out of the 50 states (missed Rhode Island, somehow), been all the way across Canada, and a little bit in Mexico, But I never really wanted to go anywhere else – well, maybe Iceland or Scotland, but I wouldn’t really call missing them ‘big regrets’.”

   “So, what you’re saying…”

   “Wait,” I said. “I thought of one that’s kind of a big regret. Some of my happiest moments as a kid and young adult were when I was backpacking and camping in the High Sierra. After my ‘teens, I only got a few chances. Up until the last couple years, I dreamed about having the opportunity – and being in good enough physical shape – to get back into that area for another trip or two. Life just intervened, and I never could pull it off.”

   He didn’t say anything to that. I felt the need to give him something else - why, I don’t know; he said he wouldn’t relate to any of it, anyway. But there had to be something else.

   “I know,” I finally said, “Sex.”

   “Sex?”

   “Sex,” I repeated.

    He shook his head a little, and got an even more distant look in his eye. “That’s a surprise, I think. I don’t remember much from my time in the world, but I have a pretty strong feeling that ‘sex’ would not have been on mydisappointment list. Why is it on yours?”

   I tried to put some coherent thoughts together. “Look, when I was growing up – eighty-plus years ago – there seemed to be two ways to look at sex. One was that girls were supposed to remain virginal until marriage – the general feeling being that no man would want to marry a woman who had already had sex with someone else – but boys (at least in their minds) were supposed to deflower every female who would let them. There always seemed to be a conflict in that whole line of thought, but never mind. 

   “The other way was that both boys and girls ‘saved themselves’ until marriage, then had that one sex partner the rest of their lives. Some thought that sex should only occur when it led to babies, but I’m not talking about that. I’m just saying that sex was supposed to be an intimate, personal thing that was exclusive to you and the one you married. My wife and I were in that category, and it worked out fine.

   “But here’s the thing. Sex nowadays seems to have nothing to do with marriage or love or togetherness. It’s just something people do. But not only that, it is so good, so exciting and satisfying – at least, that’s the message we get daily from movies, books, TV, even commercials - that it’s now considered recreation. It’s what you do on a date instead of going to the movies, going on a hike, or playing tennis – and if you haven’t had it on your first date, you probably will by your second.

   “Now, here’s where I’m going with this – and where the ‘disappointment’ comes in. It seems like everybody now  is not only having sex regularly, but they’re having Great Sex regularly. I had a lot of good sex in my marriage, but I don’t think I ever had it Great – and I’m pretty sure that I never helped my wife have Great Sex, which I guess is what men do nowadays. So, did I miss something? Did I deprive her of something? Should I have done something differently?”

   I looked over at my cliff-mate. He shrugged.

  “Well, it’s confusing,” I said.

  “So you say,” he responded. “Well, any other disappointments you want to get off your chest?”

   I wanted to tell him how worthless he was as a sounding board, but I knew I’d just get another shrug. “Okay, how about this? I’m disappointed because I lived too long.”

   That was greeted with a slight raising of the eyebrows. “You lived too long?”

   “Here’s what I’m thinking. When I was seventy – which, by the way, is the ‘three score years and ten’ that is the proverbial lifetime grant for humans – things all seemed pretty good. After that? Not so much. I was running out of things I really wanted to do – or would have been capable of doing. I’d been retired from my lifelong profession for twenty years, but was still in some demand for my knowledge or advice. Suddenly, nobody seemed to remember me. My list of friends was slimming down, too, as we all approached the end of our expected lives. I had two friends I thought would probably be ‘with me’ to the end but, even though they were still alive, our paths seemed to be diverging. The only things that seemed to be worth hanging around for were some family obligations that I didn’t think anybody but me could fulfill.

   “Into my seventies, it still seemed to me that the things I’d done with my life had, in general, been worth doing, and had in some ways been beneficial to others. Then, with the pandemic, climate change, and the possible collapse of our government and our whole ‘way of life,’ I began to doubt that anything had been meaningful. Really, it began to look like the future of the human race was in some doubt.”

   “Okay,” said my designated listener, apparently ignoring all my agonizing soul-searching. “Back to the pandemic; what’s that all about?”

   “Well, as I left all that down there,” and I made a sweeping motion with my arm to show that I was referring to the whole earth, “Disease – a virus – was affecting every county, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands more with debilitating after effects. There was no end in sight, and people seemed to have given up hope, and no longer were doing even the simplest things that might retard the spread. Despite the ever-growing evidence, some – including our President! – were still denying anything bad was happening.

   “Along with that, the bad effects of climate change were getting worse day by day. Some  knowledgeable weather scientists were saying that we’d probably passed the point where anything meaningful could be done to reverse the trend. More and more, it was looking like, if the virus didn’t cause the extinction of the human race, climate change would finish the job.”

   As I talked, the landscape below me seemed to become a little less defined, like a mist was rolling in. I was feeling a little fuzzy, myself, maybe exhausted from all the mind-traveling back through time. Still, there was one very large thing on my mind.

   “I know you’re just supposed to listen to me,” I said to my companion, “but you must have some knowledge of what this has all been about. Is this the end of the line for me – for us, for the human race? Will anything we’ve done have any long-term meaning, or are we like we think the wolves are: here for awhile, then gone, leaving nothing but a little bit of wolf DNA so the next generation will remember that they are wolves? Or, is there maybe something bigger going on?”

   He didn’t say anything, and when I turned my head to see his reaction, I found I was alone on the cliff. Also, the cliff was looking less real every second. The view below me was almost obscured by darkness, now, and I wasn’t sure I was still seeing my own feet as clearly. A little scared, I resorted to a mind game I had begun playing a few years back as my short-term memory had begun to fade.

   “Who is the Number 1 golfer in the world?” Well, maybe that wasn’t a good question, as the answer seemed to be changing every week, now that Tiger wasn’t competing regularly.

   “Okay, who’s the President?” That’s one nobody would ever forget. It’s….

   “My hometown?” Nothing.

   And then: Nothing.

*  *  *

  As I sat down on Lookout Point, I noticed there was already a woman there, staring down at the landscape below her.

   “Quite a view,” I offered.

   She turned, and gave me a quick look-over. “Yes, it is, but something seems wrong. It’s a lot bigger and clearer than I thought.”

   “Perspective,” I said.


 

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© Sanford Wilbur 2020