Tonawanda News

August 16, 2013

His widow called to tell me the news

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Starting in kindergarten or even before, you meet people eager to tell you you’re wrong, about everything. I refer to the ones who doubt your opinions and ideas and goals at every turn, tell you why things will not turn out the way you hope. The ones eager to dampen whatever enthusiasm is available.

You’d think you would outgrow exposure to them, but as you get older you find more, everywhere. High school, college, work life. The ones to whom you could apply a little amateur psychotherapy and conclude they’re jealous, they’re misanthropic, they’re self-loathing failures, they seek an advantage by planting some self-doubt in you, they somehow have a vested interest in seeing you screw up and seeing themselves slow you down.

There will always be some schoolyard whiner unhappy not with results but with conditions. And they themselves do not outgrow it: walk into a fast-food or casual restaurant and find the loudmouthed older guys who congregate there in the morning the way they once did at night in saloons. There is typically one person in those circles of friends providing freelance grousing about whatever the topic of conversation.

Get outta here, it won’t happen. You can’t do that. Goddamn (insert name of powers that be here) won’t let you get away with that. No way. You’re not smart enough, rich enough to pull that off. Forget it.

To them you are not the idea machine you think you are. You’re more like a mirror, the person ready to attempt what that bitter negative influence will not or cannot.

You meet people like this in life. You do not cultivate them or strive to find them, but you meet them anyway. (All right, some people cultivate them: it seems to be a codicil to life’s grand contract that there are people who are users, and people seeking to be used, in equal numbers.) Some people get their kicks stomping on a dream, a great man sang, and learning to ignore their poisonous, ruinous comments can be regarded as a sign of maturity.

Then there is the other kind of person, and in my life, one of them passed away last week. A guy I met in a previous career, a few years older than I, who eagerly listened to what I was up to and what I intended to be up to, and offered perspectives. Not ways I would fail, not urgings to dismiss the whole thing, but opinions with silver linings attached to them.

His encouragement tempered all the other stuff I was hearing at the time from the others, and I made it clear to his family, at the wake, how much I appreciated it. He and I somehow both kept in touch and lost track of each other, over the years; postcards from exotic places, mostly. His bucket list evidently included travel. Mine was more like — well, he knew what it was because he encouraged me to go after it.

I hear his words often these days, largely because he taught me how to behave in the company of those younger than I, the ones still sorting out what they intend to do and be in life. Whatever their thoughts, when explained to me, I tend to encourage. Study a college curriculum whose name I don’t even understand? Work in a lab in Vancouver or Singapore? Rebuild a ‘57 Chevy in Mom’s backyard? Get immersed in America’s most competitive industry, rock music?

Oh, go for it, I tell them, and do not fear failing or losing. Even the most prominent of society’s successes win a few and lose a few; those least prominent never took a shot at anything. In the way people with experience in crisis management are best equipped to handle upcoming crises (that is, you’ll have faith in yourself, and know what to do, if you’ve independently faced a few problems in the past), a failure or two can set you up for future success, and believe me, you’ll be able to tell the two apart.

Or you could listen to those around you who think you, like they, shouldn’t even try.

With age comes the opportunity to better choose those you hang around with; life offers less batch processing or assignment into home rooms or work departments. There’s a reason I hurry to those who embolden me. I never put it into words for him, but I told his wife, the other day, and she seemed to understand.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.