A Realist

As he walked along the road, cold and wet and alone, he
thought of some of the people he had known and of some of the stories
they had to tell. He never liked hearing stories of what used to be
or of what is yet to be, but he knew so many people who only told
such stories as that. He tried to get them and their stories out of
his mind, but he couldn't seem to do it. It was like the irritating
melody one hears a few lines of in the morning and then it stays in
his head all day. He tried thinking of his own life and of his
philosophy of life. He knew that his life was not the ideal at
least not as men usually see things but he also knew that it was
his life. It could have been better, he guessed, but it could have
been much worse. It was what it was and it is what it is and it will
be what it will be and there was nothing he could do about it by
looking back or looking forward and, for that matter, there wasn't
anything he particularly wanted to do about it.

The stories of those who lived in the past stayed with him
and he couldn't get them out of his mind. He wasn't like those
people, but he knew several of them. Some of them lived in years
long past when things were "much better" for them; or, at least so
they said. They spoke of their long forgotten conquests, their
former importance, their great talents, and the like. He had always
wondered about glories long gone, and honestly (though it troubled
him somewhat to think this of other people) he thought that those who
spoke so much of things that "used to be" were probably not telling
the truth. After all, if they were so great before, why are they no
longer so great?

He wondered why "winning" was so good if it was only to be
followed by "losing". He wondered why anyone who "used to" win would
brag about such victories when they no longer were able to win. He
believed that if winning was to do a man any good he would need to
win at the last and not only at the first. He thought that winning
was a cruel mistress. The "winners" he knew cold and wet and alone
like him seemed pretty miserable. He had never tasted victory as a
winner himself, so he wasn't sure (on a personal level) just what all
the fuss was about. Was he not better off? He would rather not have
any part of "winning" if it were only temporary and he had never
met a man who won and never lost so all winning must be temporary.
He was familiar with the poet's line, even if he couldn't remember it
verbatim `Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have
loved at all but he was sure that it didn't apply to winning. No,
if winning left a man in such a condition as those former winners
with whom he was acquainted, he wanted to part of it.

He wondered about those larger-than-life characters who spun
such yarns about their former eminence, also. If these men were so
important before, why weren't they now? Were they truly important?
Or, had they only been deceived into thinking more of themselves than
was their due? Or, perhaps, they were the deceivers themselves
inflating their former worth? If being "important" lasted only for a
while and then left what was so great about being important? He
had known men who had really been important. He had even known some
who, upon the loss of their eminence, had taken their own lives
rather than live without their former position. He had known some
who stopped short of suicide but only barely, choosing an existence
over living itself. He thought that some placed too much importance
on being important. For when a man acquired eminence he would surely
come to lose it every important person he had known had seen his
downfall and that upon losing it their whole world seemed to
crumble. He thought that a very high price to pay for something that
lasted no longer than it seemed to last and then left in its wake so
many scars. He had never been important, but that was fine with him.

His mind drifted to those who claimed to have been formerly
among the world's most talented residents. He wondered about the
value of talent at all thinking that if it was so great, and that
if these folks had possessed so much of it, where was it now? Some
said that talent was no longer appreciated therefore, while they
still had it, it did them no good. He didn't see it that way. He
had always viewed talent as the ability to do a particular thing
well anything, for that matter; and he had never believed that
there was a time in his lifetime when humanity had so debased itself
as to be totally incapable of appreciating a thing done well even
if the thing done well ran contrary to popular taste. True talent,
he believed, never left. It also didn't have to brag on itself but
was content to work its work and leave the bragging to others.

He often questioned the definitions given to "importance"
and "victory" and "talent" by these "used-to-be's" he encountered.
Maybe what they had was real, but he doubted it. More probably, he
thought, they were either deceived or, relying on the great span of
time between the alleged possession of the alleged characteristics
and the time of the telling of the stories, they sought to deceive.
He didn't believe that most of them had ever been what they claimed
to be. They were mere dreamers indeed, inventors of dreams, for
the things of which they dreamt never really happened, or so he
believed at least.

He knew other dreamers also. These looked forward and lived
today as though they had already accomplished what was as yet only a
fanciful dream. They treated others who were their own equals or
even their superiors as their lesser based, not on fact, but on
fancy. A man twenty or more years their senior who had not
accomplished what they planned to accomplish by the time they reached
his age would be looked down upon as a wretched creature. They would
speak of future greatness and desire its rewards when they had no
more than the bare essentials of life if those at present. It
made no sense to him. What good was future greatness when the hunger
pangs of today could not be satisfied?

He was no dreamer. He fancied himself a realist. In fact,
that was what he was a realist. He lived now, not before or
after. He didn't need to "have been" something, nor was he counting
on "becoming" anything. He was what he was and he is what he is and
he will be what he will be and that was enough. He was cold and wet
and alone, but he was really that no more and no less, and he
didn't have to tell anyone about it and he didn't even care if anyone
knew. If he had been a great man before, that did him no good now.
It didn't put clothes on his back. It didn't put a roof over his
head. It didn't feed him. He might be a great man someday, but
again, that didn't spend well.

Chances had come and gone, but no matter. They would either
come again or not. He might have missed some before and he might not
have missed them; but that was before, and now is now. Should he
have other chances, he might miss them again or he might not. Who
was he to say what he would do "next time"? The fact that he had
done well before was no guarantee that he would do well again, and
the fact that he had failed before was no guarantee that he would
fail again. Sometimes men learn and improve, sometimes they become
haughty and silly with success and come to fail. All such
speculations meant nothing to him. Those things were what "used-to-
be" or what "might someday be". They didn't matter.

What mattered now was now. He would think each thing through
and do the very best he could. What else could he do? He figured
that a man would live until he died and then die. No amount of
remembering the past or aspiring to the future would change that.
Cold and wet and alone men died; but warm and dry and well-attended
men died also. Nothing not the past and not the future could
change that. Remembering glories gone and pretending glories not yet
attained only made men miserable or silly. He was who he was no
more and no less and none else. That was enough. He wished other
people could see it that way. But whether they could or not, it was
enough that he was who he was.

H. L. Gradowith


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