The first book I ever read, cover-to-cover, was Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. This book is quite bizarre and moderately complex, but in it (in one of my favorite scenes, early in the book), the reclusive fictional science fiction writer named Kilgore Trout is invited to be the keynote speaker at an event in which he is required to wear a tuxedo. And as he takes his tuxedo out of an old trunk to clean it up, Kilgore Trout converses aloud with his parakeet, Bill.
He dabbed at his tuxedo with a damp rag, and the fungi came away easily. “Hate to do this, Bill,” he said of the fungi he was murdering. “Fungi have as much right to life as I do. they know what they want, Bill. Damned if I do anymore.”
Then he thought about what Bill himself might want. It was easy to guess. “Bill,” he said,
“I like you so much, and I am such a big shot in the Universe, that I will make your three biggest wishes come true.” He opened the door of the cage, something Bill couldn’t have done in a thousand years.
Bill flew over to the windowsill. He put his little shoulder against the glass. there was just one layer of glass between Bill and the great out-of-doors. Although Trout was in the storm window business, he had no storm windows on his own abode.
“Your second wish is about to come true,” said Trout, and he again did something which Bill could never have done. He opened the window. But the opening of the window was such an alarming business to the parakeet that he flew back to his cage and hopped inside.
Trout closed the door of the cage and latched it. “That’s the most intelligent use of three wishes I ever heard of,” he told the bird. “You made sure you’d still have something worth wishing for – to get out of the cage.”
My wife and I love to travel. She is the absolute best travel companion. And when we travel, we go meet people we don’t normally meet and do things we don’t normally do and feel ways we don’t normally feel and see things we don’t normally see – We live life as we don’t normally live. It is a sweet escape, but admittedly, it would be nothing without her.
We just returned from Dallas, visiting some old friends and seeing some beloved family and enjoying one of my favorite cities. Saturday night we went to dinner with a few friends we only see a few times a year, and we talked about this-and-that, including our occupations, the banalities of life, and for us, joy of the road trip away from Wichita, etc. And during our dinner conversation, I made the comment that I didn’t particularly enjoy living in Wichita because the amount of negative history I have there and how nice it is to be in a city like Dallas where no one knows me, so I don’t have to worry about “running into” someone from the past (such as a former student or colleague – not that I mind this at all; I’ve never had a negative experience with this, and in fact, each one has been positive). But all-the-same, it’s nice to walk into a restaurant and not feel the need to scan the crowd to make sure there’s no one there I know.
During this conversation, as I voiced my displeasure at still living in Wichita, my friend asked, “Why not just move?” Solid question; a question I’ve asked myself many times. And it is a question, to which I don’t have a solid answer. “Family,” I replied. “My whole family is there and now that I have a daughter, I wouldn’t want to take her away from her grandparents and cousins and everyone.” This, I suppose, was a factual and truthful answer, though not the answer in its entirety – it was not a complete answer because, essentially, I don’t have an answer that even resembles completion. But as I was thinking about this solid question, I couldn’t help but feel like Bill, Kilgore Trout’s parakeet.
Not to seem overly dramatic, but my “dreams” are being shattered left-and-right these days. The choices of my past have limited the opportunities of my present to such an extent that I feel like I’m often merely trying to maintain. For example, I recently applied to graduate school. But, of course, being “me,” it’s a long-shot that any university would allow me to be admitted. I’ve applied to four schools, and of the four, two have denied me. And I expect similar results from the remaining two. That is my reality, here. The ghosts of this town that follow me and peak from behind corners are constant reminders of the choices I’ve made in my life.
“The choices you’re making now won’t even feel like choices until it’s too late,” said Jason Sudeikis, playing the part of track & field Coach Larry Snyder in the new film Race about the life of Jesse Owens. When I heard this line in the film as my wife and I sat and watched it in the theater this weekend, I replayed the line in my mind over and over again. It was one of those quotes that I wish I’d heard years ago. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but maybe it would have. I don’t know. But it certainly capped-off the metaphorical message of how I was feeling at the moment. We stopped in Oklahoma on our way back from Dallas and decided to take a break from driving and catch a movie; perhaps I was subconsciously delaying our return to Wichita as long as possible – I knew that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were days when I didn’t have to live in the reality of “being me,” burdened by the choices of my past, being in a new place with new people who had no clue who I was. But Monday, I would have to wake up, get into my car, and step back into “my life,” plagued by guilt and stigma. Blue Monday, indeed.
I will eventually leave. I will eventually move away from Wichita. There is simply too much history here; there are too many demons chasing me around this town. (I, of course, mean that figuratively; I don’t honestly believe that real demons are actually chasing me around town – although, from a Frank Peretti point-of-view, I wouldn’t completely rule it out.) But until I do move away, just knowing that a bigger better world exists out there is one of the few things that still fills me with hope. The expanse of the great “unknown” of a brighter future in a better place keeps me moving forward. Two graduate schools have rejected me. Two have yet to respond. So I still have … hope. But if (or when) the remaining two reject me as well, I will have no choice but to keep moving on. And I don’t know where that will take me, but I pray it takes me to a new place with better opportunities for me, my family, and our lives together. My wife and daughter don’t deserve the problems that come with being attached to me, so it is my responsibility to provide the best possible life for them apart from the choices of my past. And my aspirations are designed to do exactly that. Some day, I hope to be known by my peers by what I’m doing, rather than what I’ve done; known by who I am, not who I used to be. But I am also not so narcissistic as to think this doesn’t impact my family. They deserve to be the wife and daughter of someone who is doing something great, rather than someone who has done something terrible. So why do I strive for a better life? Not for me – for them.
Because eventually, coming home from a trip on Sunday night won’t lead to the inevitable feeling of dismay in knowing that a Blue Monday will follow, but instead, a feeling of joy in knowing that a bright Monday will follow, in a new place, in a new job, in a new life, but with the familiar and loving wife and daughter whom I love, and who love me. So for now, like Bill the parakeet, I will stay in the cage and keep grasping my third wish. Because sometimes in life, a difficulties “now” can be handled just a little easier when the possibilities of the future still hold promise. And then I will finally be able to say, “Goodbye, Blue Monday!”