He Said, “I’ve Had A Good Life.”

1/15/2018

Let me tell you a quick story for context’s sake:

Back in August of 2017, a longtime friend of mine went to the hospital for heart surgery. During surgery, he had a stroke and went into a coma. I saw this on his social media page. His lady friend (my buddy never married) posted about it and then updated everyone on his condition over the course of three days. I contacted her directly, seeing how I had known this guy since I was six-years-old. She and I PM’d back and forth for the next several days with her giving me more detailed information than what she posted on social media. 

Three days after my friend had his stroke, he passed away. His lady friend sent me a message before she posted it on social media stating simply, He’s Gone. One of the friends I had had for over forty years of my life was now gone from it forever. 

A couple days passed and I contacted the lady, wanting to see how she was, how she was handling the death of our mutual friend. She was struggling, but she said something that has stuck with me: “He said before he went into surgery, ‘If I don’t make it, I had a good life.’”

My friend did have a good life. He did well for himself, having gone into the military and then being successful when he got out of the military. He had a good life. He did the things he wanted to do with his life. He enjoyed his life. 

a-good-life-is-whenI. Had. A. Good. Life.

Recently, I talked to another friend of mine. I asked him how he was.

“I want a do over,” he said.

“Today’s been that bad?”

“No. I want a do over and go back to high school. I would have paid more attention in class. I wouldn’t have given up on what I wanted to do with my life.”

“What did you want to do with your life?”

“I wanted to be a graphic designer.”

“My friend, just because you are older now doesn’t mean you can’t still be what you want to be.”

He shrugged his shoulders at this. “I wish I had the discipline back then to just pursue it.”

“That was then. Who says you don’t have the discipline now?”

My best friend went to college at forty-five (the same age as the friend I talked to recently) and graduated in October of 2018 with a Masters in Business. I know a woman who went to law school at forty because she wanted a change in careers. She became a very successful attorney.

My friend shrugged several times during our conversation. That has always struck me as the universal sign for ‘I give up,’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ It’s the sign for ‘I don’t want to put the effort into it.’ (Let me state that this is a generalization and this is my observation. You may not see things the same way.)

I relayed the story to him of my deceased friend, going into a little more detail than I have here. I looked him in the eyes and stated, “He had a good life. We have one shot at this game called life. For me, I want no regrets. When I get to the end, I want to say, I had a good life.”

Isn’t that what we all want? To say we had a good life? To say I lived the best I could? To say I experienced life?

I’ve been known to say to people when they say “I can’t do something” the following: “You can’t or you won’t?”

Wait. Before you get offended, understand something. There is a vast difference between can’t and won’t. Some people physically can’t do things. They may want to do something, but it is an impossibility because of a physical or mental limitation. That is not a won’t, but an actual can’t. What I mean is there are folks out there who will say ‘I can’t’ because they don’t want to try or they feel like they won’t succeed, so why bother? Can’t verses Won’t. 

Here’s the thing: I’m guilty of this very thing. I’ve said I can’t do something because I thought I would fail at it. So, I didn’t try. I regret those decisions. I don’t want others to regret not trying because they … are afraid they won’t succeed, or maybe they don’t think it is worth the effort. What do you have to lose? An experience you might never forget is one thing. Success at something you never thought you could do, is another. 

I’m at the point in my life where I would rather try and fail than wonder if I would have ever succeeded at something I didn’t attempt. 

Each person has to live their life according to how they see fit. I don’t fault anyone for being how or who they are. You and I have to do what is best for ourselves. For me, the options are simple and there are really only two of them: you go after life like you want it, or you sit by and watch it pass you by. At the end of life, I want to be one who went after it. What if I got to lose? What do you have to lose? 

Go back to school. Chase a dream you let go. Ask that lady or man out that you have had your eye on. Go after life. Go after it and live it and enjoy it.

Until we meet again my friends, have a good life, and be kind to one another.

A.J. 

The Lyrics’ Tragedies

In 1972 The Statler Brothers came out with a song called Class of 57. I was two at the time. I can honestly say this is the first song I remember hearing as a child, though probably not when I was two. Sure there were probably others. Jesus Loves Me comes to mind, but it and most songs geared toward kids didn’t stick until years later. 

Class of 57 has an innocent sound about it, one that is tragic at the same time. The song is a recounting of the kids who graduated from high school and where they were now that they were grown ups. They sing of the places some of them work: the mill, driving a truck, fixing nails, a grocery store and so on. Innocent enough, right?

After the first chorus things get a little darker. One person was in an insane ward, another one was on wellfare. One of them breaks up a marriage and takes the guy’s wife, and well, the guy left behind commits suicide. At the time I didn’t understand what the song was about. I just know it stuck with me. Growing older and living life is hard. Things don’t always turn out the way we envision them. It’s kind of ominous, you know?

I have come to the conclusion that one of the reasons I like songs with tragic lyrics in them is because of The Statler Brothers’ Class of 57. The one verse I remember, even now, is the one where ‘Freddie took his life.’ The chorus is just as tragic. ‘Living life day to day is never like it seems’ and ‘things get complicated when you get past eighteen.’

I’ve always been drawn to those types of songs. 

One such song that comes to mind is A Day in the Life, by the Beatles. The very distinct sound of this lyric painted a picture in my head: He blew his mind out in a car.  I always pictured a guy in a nice black suit in a nice box-like car sitting at a red light with a gun in his hand. Every time I hear this song, and this lyric in particular, that image comes back to me. Only now it is a little more graphic in nature.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. Just the title did it for me. Then the accusatory lyrics of ‘What did you tell them?’ solidified my love for the song.

Two years later another song came out that I fell in love with, not because of a tragic event in the lyrics, but because I misheard the lyrics and thought the song was about someone dying. The lyric: ‘A little ditty about Jack and Diane.’ What I heard: ‘A little ditty about Jackie dying.’ I thought a kid named Jackie was dying and at the end when Mellencamp sings about two American kids doing the best the can, I thought Jackie had died and the two kids had not been able to save him. I pictured a teenaged girl sitting on the ground by a tree and Jackie lying beside her, his head in her lap. She stroked his hair as he faded from life. 

The End, by the Doors and Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen have equal standing in songs with tragic lyrics, though the deaths in those songs came across as intentional. 

The Offspring’s The Kids Aren’t Alright has stuck with me since the first time I heard it. The tragedy is though Jenny had a chance (you know she really did), she ended up taking her own life, much like Freddie did in Class of 57, though for different reasons. Both songs are similar in that the singer is looking back on childhood and dreams of a splendid life full of hopeful success. Yet, success didn’t happen for some. 

I could go on for pages and pages about this, but there is one more I want to mention. I’m not particularly an Ed Sheeran fan, but the song Castle on the Hill struck a chord with me the first time I heard the end of it. I almost switched the channel in the car, but when The Boy said he liked the song I left it on. Then the last verse happened and someone’s brother overdosed. I was hooked. 

Morbid, I know.

The thing I find to be common denominators in most of these songs is how life can be cruel. It can be tough. It can be heart wrenching. It can lead us down paths we never thought we would take. Things are complicated. It’s that simple. I related to these songs and many more like them because they speak about life, and they are honest by saying life is not always easy and sometimes it is tragic.

I guess that’s why I write darker stories. Horror is nothing more than a mirror of the real world outside our doors. There is tragedy in every life. I explore those tragedies, with as much tact and care as I can, just as The Statler brothers did in Class of 57. 

Thank you for reading, and as always, until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Two Young Ladies and a Dinosaur

I want to talk today about not worrying about what people think of you and or what you do. No, I’m not going to preach. I’m going to tell you a short story.

Today my wife, kids and myself went to a park here in Columbia. The kids wanted to climb on the rocks that spanned part of the stream that runs through the park. My wife and I wanted to get the kids to take pictures holding one of my books for promotional purposes.

We let the kids do their climbing, and yes, The Boy slipped and got his shoes wet in the water. We saw that coming and had prepared for it by making him wear an old pair of sneakers. When it came time to take a picture of the kids holding a book, neither of them wanted to. We had a feeling that would be the case as well—it is what it is.

Here is where I want to talk about not worrying about what people think. When we asked the kids to sit at a table and hold a book so Cate could get a quick picture, they both looked around, checking to see if there was anyone else around. There was, but not the way you would think. More on that in a minute. One of the children took the book and hid behind it with the cover facing out. I say ‘children,’ but you have to understand both of my kids are in their teens. My wife took the picture, then tried to get him or her to lower the book to make it look less like she or he was hiding behind it. (Yes, I am conveniently not saying which child it was.)

Both of our children seemed embarrassed by their mom wanting to take a picture with them holding a book. I get it.

Earlier I stated my children looked around to see if anyone was in the vicinity. There was. Walking toward us were three individuals, two young ladies and a dinosaur. Yes, I said dinosaur. Stick with me and I will explain.

DinosaurRight about the time my wife tried to get pictures of my children, these three individuals walked by us. I glanced to my left and saw them. The two young ladies were in their late teens or very early twenties. They had their phones out and were talking to the dinosaur. When the dinosaur responded, I realized the dinosaur was female. None of them looked our way. They went about their business as if we weren’t around. I looked to my wife, extended my hand for one of my books and took off after them. I’m not quite sure what my kids said, but I got the distinct impression they were embarrassed that I would go talk to these total strangers.

I hit the path they were on and came up on them close to the short bridge that crosses a stream. The dinosaur stood, posing next to the bridge.

“That is so awesome,” I said when I walked up to them. I was still a good fifteen feet away when I stopped.

The girl in the dinosaur suit said, “Thank you,” and smiled. “I wanted to be a dinosaur.”

“What made you want to be a dinosaur?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I just wanted to be a dinosaur, so I went online and today I am a dinosaur.””
“That is awesome,” I said again, then added. “Can you do me a favor? I’m an author. Would you mind taking a picture holding my book?”

Her eyes widened, as did her smile. “Sure. I can do that.”

I handed her Cory’s Way. She turned slightly so her face wouldn’t be in the image. Cate took the picture and we both told her thank you. We talked for a moment longer and then the two young ladies and the female dinosaur went on their way.

A few minutes later we walked along the trail, heading toward the car. We ran into the two young women plus one. The dinosaur had taken off her fake skin and was now a regular young lady. I thanked her again and said she was awesome for being a dinosaur. I started to walk away, then I stopped. I turned around and asked the three young women if they liked to read. It turns out, they do. I got one of their emails and will be sending them free copies of a couple of my books as a thank you for the three minutes of their time they gave me to take a picture.

Here is my point. The dinosaur girl didn’t care what anyone thought about her. She bought a plastic dinosaur suit, put it on and went to a very popular park in downtown Lexington, South Carolina. She walked around where many kids and adults were and didn’t bat an eye. She took a picture for a total stranger and it didn’t phase her. She wanted to be a dinosaur, so she became a dinosaur. To heck with what anyone thought. This is what she wanted and she went after it. She was secure enough in who she is to do something most people wouldn’t because they would be too concerned about what people might say or think.

I wish I could be that carefree. I wish I could just throw on a dinosaur suit and be a dinosaur. I wish my kids could be dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all could just love the life we have and not worry about what others think of us or what we do? It’s something worth thinking about.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Quiet Reflection

Quiet reflection. Some folks may have seen the title of this blog and decided they didn’t want to read it, thinking that this is just another one of those posts about someone reflecting on the year that has passed. Well, quite frankly, they are right…and wrong. Yes, this piece is about reflecting on the past, but it’s also about the future, about a goal we all have: living life.

You’ve heard me say this before, so stick with me for a minute and I’ll explain.

Our world today is a very negative place. We hear about tragedies day in and day out. It gets kind of old. Cops shooting people. Terrorists beheading innocent people. Schools being shot up. Men beating and raping women. People hating others because of skin color or sexual preference or religious or political differences. People killing others because one didn’t like the other’s favorite sports team. Drugs and greed and divorces and suicides and crime. Just turn on the television and you see it in all of its overhyped glory.

But it’s not just tragedies that make the world such a negative place. There are people—a lot of them, by the way—who are not happy unless they are miserable and unless everyone else knows about it. And don’t let someone else have it worse than they do. So many people have poor pitty me syndrome. Misery loves company and all that. It’s mind numbing.

I want to do something positive. I want to do something that doesn’t bring people down, but lifts them up.

But before I can do that I must reflect on my life, on me for a few moments.

I’m not perfect. In God’s eyes I’m a sinner, though redeemed by Jesus’ blood. But I’m not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes, both accidentally and on purpose. What? How can a mistake be on purpose? That’s simple: if you choose to do something even though you know it is wrong or that it can hurt someone, then that is intentional, and it’s a mistake. I’ve done this. I will make many more mistakes during my lifetime. I will be selfish. I will be angry. I will be judgmental. I will, from time to time, be lazy or obstinate. I will intentionally not do something someone has asked me to do (I will also unintentionally do the same thing). I am human. It’s the one quality every person in the world shares, no matter race, religion, political standing, religious beliefs, economical status—we are all human.

When I was younger I didn’t care what people thought of me. I spoke my mind, regardless of someone’s feelings. I held grudges for a long time. If I didn’t like you, I let you know. I was all about loving some me. Man, what a jerk. But I’m older now and I’ve watched the world change, just as my parents did and their parents before them and so on. I can honestly say not all change is good, just as not all change is bad. I have changed. Just ask anyone who knows me. Some of it has been good. And other things, well, not so much.

For the record, I’m not setting goals for myself. I think most goals are set ups to fail. Why? Because a lot of goals are so lofty attaining them is near impossible. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think setting goals is a bad idea, as long as you work to follow through with them. But let’s face it, most people make New Year’s Resolutions to be better people or to lose weight or to find a new job or to not be so danged lazy all the time or whatever. By the second week of the year, for the most part, those goals are wrecked and often times we are left feeling as if we failed and that we can’t start back over and try again. Two things: You can try again and you can start over. Yes, they are one and the same. Thank you for noticing. There is always that whole, ‘it’s just a New Year’s resolution, and no one keeps them’ mindset.

One more thing before I get to the gist of this. As I mentioned earlier, I am reflecting quite a bit on my life right now. Over the last few months I have learned something about myself I don’t like: I’m very negative. I have a negative attitude on a lot of things, and I do not like that. Look, I used a negative in that last sentence, but that’s not what I mean (oo0, look, another negative). I’ve never really had a positive outlook on things. I’m always thinking the worst about things, and let me tell you, that is a bad thing. Why? Because people pick up on that negativity and it can rub off on others.

Now, here’s the deal:

I’m going to do something and I hope others will get involved with it. It’s called the ‘I Lived For’ Campaign. What is the ‘I Lived For’ Campaign? Well, I never thought you’d ask, but since you did: The ‘I Lived For’ Campaign is taking a day and living it for someone else. No, not literally–you can’t live someone else’s life, unless you’ve murdered them and stolen their identity, but that’s frowned upon in society, so let’s steer clear of that. Okay?

The ‘I Lived For’ Campaign is simply living your life every day. Living. Do you understand? So often we wait for tragedy to kick-start our lives. So often it takes a death or near death experience for people to open their eyes and see that life is a gift that we so often take for granted. The people in our lives are gifts that we also take for granted. Our health, our jobs, our homes, our abilities, the things we have both earned and been given. These are all gifts. Sometimes life sucks. I know. I’ve been there and probably will be there again. If I’m honest with you all, there is one part of my life that sucks right now and has for the last couple years, and I’ve let that suckage control a large part of the rest of my life. Again, if I’m honest, it’s a gift. One that I may not always want, and one that I definitely need in order to support my family, but one that I haven’t been happy with for a couple years now. Sometimes we just have to make the best of a situation we don’t like, and I haven’t done that, and that, folks, is on me. I have had a negative attitude in that aspect of my life and it affects everything I do.

It affects how I have lived.

Living…Let’s take the ‘I Lived For’ Campaign just a step further. We’ve all known someone or heard of someone who has passed away or who struggles with various issues in life. It is for those people that we live for. To take a moment during the day and say, ‘hey, I’m going to live my day for this person,’ and then remember that person as you go through the day. The thinking behind this is simple. If I had to live one day of my life for someone else I would want it to be something that person could remember. It’s like a dedication page in a book. I dedicate this book to Gramma Haygoode and so on and so on. Only, this isn’t a book, it’s a day of your life. And what better to dedicate to someone than a day of your life in his or her honor?

I know, it sounds cheesy, right? Wrong. How often do we see an athlete dedicate a game or a season to someone? How often do we see someone doing something nice in honor of someone else? How often do we hear someone say after accomplishing something, ‘this is for…?’ So, why not dedicate a day to a person?

Or, why not dedicate each day to someone different? This is what I want to do: I want to dedicate each day to someone. I want to live life, not live the mundane. No, I don’t have to do anything special each day. No need to jump out of planes or try to mark off things on a bucket list (which I do not have one of). That’s not the point. The point is to live life happily, to live life with a smile and appreciate every second of every day. The ‘I Lived For’ Campaign is about enjoying life, and if living a day or a series of days or even a year’s worth of days helps us live life happily, then why not do it?

Today, the first day of the year, I have chosen to live life, not just for myself, but for others as well. Today, the first day of the year, though I have not felt well, I have chosen to live this day for my son, Logan. He is my little buddy, and yes, sometimes he drives me nuts, but he, like my little girl, Chloe, is awesome, and today, I lived for him, not feeling well and all.

One more thing, try this: do a random act of kindness for someone you don’t know and expect nothing in return. Don’t boast about it. And be humble when you do it. Not only will you make someone else’s day, you will make your own day as well. I believe if we, as a people, did one random act of kindness each week, the world would be a better place.

I’ve always ended my blogs with ‘until we meet again my friends.’ Well, that’s changing. Why? Because I love Ellen Degeneres, and I love how she ends her shows. Going forward, I will end my blogs like this: Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…