It is a blessing of a life to know common man philosophers. Those people, though not formally educated, who are plenty smart when it comes to sizing up life.
Rodney, my brother-in-law, is the Will Rogers of our family. “Uncle Si,” I always say, “has nothing on Rodney.”
We’ll be sitting at the Sunday dinner table when suddenly he will opine on something like, “Why do people bother to ask how you’re doin’? Nobody really cares. You start to tell ‘em and they’re already on to something else.”
Bobby Allison, the legendary NASCAR driver, was a man like that. Richard Petty, too. Darrell Waltrip. They’ve all just always had a way of sieving through the experience, finding the wisdom and summing it up with wit and economy of language.
I recall back 25 years ago when Darrell was telling me about someone who had asked him how to break into NASCAR on the business side. He finished the story and concluded, “But you know, it’s just as hard to get out as it is to get in. Once you’re in, you just keep going around in circles and you’re stuck.Can’t get out.”
That’s so true that it’s hilarious. But, then, I guess you’d have to have been there to know how true and funny it really is.
Allison would often deliver one of his well-sized up zingers with a twinkle in those blue eyes.
“What happened to you comin’ out of the third turn?” I asked him once. “He went by you like you were sittin’ still.”
He grinned and shrugged. Normally, he was not good-natured about getting beat. “He snuckered me.” He paused. “In fact, he out-snuckered me because I was setting him up to snucker him but he snuckered me first.”
“Snuckered?” I had never heard the word in my life. “What does that mean?”
That’s when we went to school on a term that means, basically, “country boy’s chess move.” It’s even in the urban dictionary now though not explained nearly so well as Bobby explained it.
This all comes up now because my high school best friend and I were talking the other day about how life gets harder as you get older. Not easier as we had all supposed it would back in our salad days. We even counted on it. Planned on it. Banked on it.
“Sometimes I just want a break,” she said after several months of tribulations. “By this age, we’ve earned it.”
Well, I’d been studying on that just that very week. Like those common man heroes and philosophers who have schooled me in the past, I set out to figure why decisions seem to get harder with every decade that passes. Not easier.
“Here’s why it’s hard — we know too much now,” I explained. “Twenty years ago, decisions were simple. Cut and dry. We didn’t stop and think of repercussions or a domino effect begun by one small decision. Now we realize that all decisions are complex. The most dangerous are the smallest ones because you give little thought to making those. They’re the ones they can really boobytrap you.”
That’s true. Every choice, every decision to be made can be a landmine with unexpected consequences. One decision that seems so right can have a trapdoor that drops you to rock bottom.
The smarter you get about life, the harder life gets. When you’re 20, you know it all. When you’re 35, you still know enough to make the kind of decisions that learn you a lot. When you hit 45, you realize how little you know.
That’s why life gets harder when we get older.
A friend of mine made a decision a few months ago. “It’s what I feel is the right thing to do,” she said. Turned out it wasn’t.
To borrow a great word, she got out-snuckered. She’s only 37, though. She’ll learn.