What the man told me, the only thing I recall, went something like this.
"People are always complaining about how hard life can be, but most of their problems aren't problems at all. Most people are just bored, and feel the need to complicate what should be simple. We have so much that we can't appreciate good fortune," he said. "If you want to enjoy life, you simplify, you put things in context. Walk for a little while in the shoes of people whose lives revolved around survival, learn to adapt and bend. Then you will treasure your opportunities, rather than throwing them away and crying over the bad hand you've been dealt."
It's strange the things that can stick in your head. I've written thousands of personality profiles, and virtually all were forgotten shortly after I wrote them. Face it folks, most writing consists of chucking down a bunch of words based on the emotions of the moment. Writing can be transcendent, but more often it's transient. That "writer's mystique" that some of my fellow scribblers like to cultivate usually has more to do with good marketing and how many cents you get per word than it does powerful and life-changing revelations.
Still, the legitimacy of the above sentiments - life need not be hard, but we make it that way - have stayed with me for well over a decade. I suppose they come to mind because I've been thinking of my old friend and fellow writer David Hays, gone now almost three years to the day. It wasn't Dave who shared that philosophy with me, but it might as well have been. He was one of the few people I ever knew who both understood and lived it.
I think of Dave often. We were pseudo-partners in a number of strange enterprises, and a lot of the fun went out of publishing weird magazines and columns when he shed this mortal coil. There were some eerie connections in our lives - many parallels and near identical events - and his spirit still pops up from time to time to take a good-natured jab at my thick skull.
Dave used to get the same questions I get, the most common one being "why did you come to the mountains?" There are many answers to that query, but I can't think of Dave's reasons without hearing a snatch of song and flashing on a brief glimpse of cinema at it's finest. I see a young Robert Redford dressed in Army blues, heading out to the unknown highlands, and hear the words "Jeremiah Johnson made his way into the mountains, bettin' on forgettin' all the troubles that he knew." It's a great flick. If you haven't ever seen it, you're missing out.
But as David learned, and as I have learned (and as that movie so well depicted) the mountains can only do so much. Their grandeur gives you perspective, makes you humble. There is a certain sense of reverent peace that goes hand in hand with the magnificence of all natural wonders. They don't make you forget, but they do help you see with greater clarity. They teach you that you leave this life the same way you entered it...alone. They teach you that endings and beginnings matter little in the grand scale, that it's the time in between that counts and that time is short. Mostly they teach you to recognize the difference between problems and patterns.
Dave loved the mountains, but he also experienced the same joys and heartaches here that people experience everywhere else. He got more fun out of tending to a wounded hawk or feeding a mangy raccoon than most people would receive from winning the lottery. He was a happy guy (most of the time) who lived simply. He realized the truth, don't make life more painful than it needs to be, and thus reveled in all the good moments he could get.
But, he also came to learn that while altitude might give you a better view, it offers little protection from the whims of fate or the ways of man. He learned the hard way that illness and heartbreak have no respect for geography. I recall when his girlfriend dumped him roughly 24 hours before they were to be married. She showed up, called the whole thing off, and gave an excuse which left him astonished, perplexed and sad. He knew, however, that the stated reason was not the real one. He knew that the true reason was fear, both of place, self and the unknown. Mostly, he knew that words, promises and emotions - if they're real, if they're spoken and expressed with enduring conviction - cannot be destroyed by fear. Thus, seeing the simple truth, he adapted, and bent, and went on.
Life comes and life goes. Certain things abide - a wise quote here, a smattering of good friends there, family, a dog's smile - and some things cross our path but for a second before passing away. You hold onto that which is real - you appreciate and cherish it. You continue to trust in simplicity and, though it's easier said than believed, you submit to the hope that what is yours will come to you.
Simple truths are too obvious for most of us to grasp. We need to muck them up a bit, complicate them. Some people - as Dave did - know such truths inherently.
For the rest of us, the learning requires a lifetime.
Copyright 2002, Ron Marr