Friday, December 9, 2011

Reinventing the Wheel

The man thought he would explode if he listened to his wife and son's chatter a minute longer.

"Why don't you two ride ahead?" he said. "I'm going to rest here a minute." He leaned his bike against the old mill stones that lined the trail and walked over to look at the river.

"You sure?" His wife saw him take a deep breath as he kept his face turned away. He didn't answer. "OK. We'll ride on ahead and then come back for you." She watched him for a minute, concern lining her face, and then turned with a bright smile to her son. "Let's race to the next mile marker," she challenged.

"Ha! You'll regret that." He surged in front of her and she followed.

"Oh, God. What am I going to do?" The man wiped his hand across his face and stared at the river. The voices of his family were replaced by the familiar memory of a shuffle of footsteps and the tap of a cane. "Dad, what do you think?" he asked softly.

He could see his dad shake his head the way he always did when he thought his son was being particularly stupid about something. "About what? What's the problem?"

"I was laid off. Twenty-five years of working for this company and I'm no longer needed. We got bought out; they closed the division. No more job." The man continued sightlessly watching the river. "Been looking for six months, can't even get an interview. They say I'm overqualified, but there don't seem to be any jobs at my previous level."

His shoulders sagged and he took a ragged breath. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. Wasn't this when it was supposed to get easier? It did for you and Mom. It did for most people my age. How is this right? How is this fair?"

"Fair?" He could hear his father's short, gruff laugh. "Life's not fair. I think the biggest disservice our generation did yours was to teach you that life was fair. Look at history. Was there ever really a time when people could expect fairness? Hell, look around you. Look at those old millstones you've got that fancy bike of yours leaning against. Cast aside, old technology. That bike of yours will be the same. Things change; people are always reinventing the wheel - life just rolls on. And it will roll right over you, grind you into the dust if you let it."

The man could see his father gaze off in the distance as he leaned on his cane. "You know, when I think back, I can honestly say that the best times were when your mom and I were struggling, barely making do. Later, when things got easier we got complacent, maybe sleepwalking a bit through the days. There's something to be said for having to stay sharp.

"There are lots of ways to die in life, but two stand out: being too afraid to take risks, and being too complacent to need to." The old man laughed. "Be thankful that at least now you don't have to worry about the being complacent part."

"I'm tired, Dad."

"I understand. Do you hear that? It's understandable. Life isn't fair. But you're going to be OK. You'll be more than OK. You're my son, aren't you? Now get rolling!"

"I miss you, Dad."

"Pops, who are you talking to?" The man turned around to see his son and wife standing behind him. He hadn't heard them return. He smiled sheepishly. "Your granddad. I pretend he's still here sometimes when I really need him. It helps me to remember what he taught me."

"Dad, are we going to be OK?" his son asked.

The man's gaze moved over the old mill stones, his bike, and landed on his son. "Yeah. We'll be OK. We'll be more than OK. I'm your dad, aren't I? Now let's get rolling."

Reinventing the Wheel

Watercolor - 9 1/2" x 13 3/4"

Centennial Trail Series

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