The Measure: Acquiesce


by Phil Repko*

I was borrowing a friend’s truck in early Spring, and in the exchange of keys, lamenting that I didn’t have a truck of my own.

“I’m scheming to get a truck,” I said. The listener raised his chin a bit and squinted. “I have been happiest in my life when I have a truck.”

My friend said, “Well, then get a truck. You’re at a point in life where you should be able to get what you want, right?”

I laughed. Maybe he’s at a point in life where he can get what he wants, but I am still in the position where I have to barter with God, or Fate, or Destiny. And that’s just the opening round.

Or am I?

It’s not really that I can’t decide to get a pickup truck. New, used, rickety – one of those could certainly be simply selected, and then I would have the vehicle to happiness – in my imagination.

I retorted to my friend, “Well, when I get the truck, I think I’ll get a new one. That’ll be the last car I buy!”

I’m 62, reasonably healthy, in the throes of my third or fourth attempt at retirement, and here I am projecting that my prospective vehicle purchase – perhaps a Ford Maverick, a small pickup – will be a swansong of sorts. What in the world makes me conclude that it’s time to decide my expiration date?

I found myself thinking in this way for the past year or so, and I have decided to stop it by force of will. I will talk myself into it if I have to, and if I can’t, I will trick myself into believing something else. After all, we do have authority over our perspective, do we not?

From here on in, I vow, I am going to live until I die. I will not dwell on how much scaling back of life and enjoyment is proper for my age. And don’t get me wrong, my mind and body remind me constantly of my limitations. I have no plans to pretend I am still a kid. What I have decided to do is to convince myself, when I am planning, projecting, and scheduling, that I am simply going to live forever. I shall live in the temple I was given and have misused.

I will persevere to some extent the way I did when I was 12 years-old: I will test at each station the capacity I have in this moment. When I was 12, this may have meant my willingness to risk a leap from the second story bay windows of the childhood farmhouse. Today, that same level of risk may be tied to climbing a six-foot ladder to prune a few unruly limbs on the birch trees in the yard. Someday, the scariest challenge may be bending over to tie my shoes, or kneeling down to tie the shoes of another. Either way, I will climb or leap only to the degree I think I can withstand failure.

I will believe that I can accomplish everything my mind and body possesses the power to do in this tiny window of time. I will act as if I am going to live forever, even while I know I have a lower number of days in my account.

I know, of course, that to believe all this is ridiculous, but isn’t it better to find your time has come with ten ‘achievements’ still left on your bucket list? Or would you rather declare your bucket full, but then wait ten years for an inconspicuous demise?

“Whatever happened to so and so,” they will say. “I used to see him at the greasy spoon on Saturdays, but he stopped coming in years ago.” Or worse, upon seeing a link to my obituary in a text or email, a colleague or acquaintance will say, “He’s still alive? I thought he passed away years ago, right after his new truck grew rusty.”

My wife and I are the last of the boomers by birth year: I was born in 1961, and she in 1964. Our kids are generally the millennials. I am aware that a famous movie quote says that baseball has marked the time, but so has this fairly-recent practice of labelling a generation of folks.

Those in the Greatest Generation lived through World Wars, Depression, Civil Unrest, and Various Plagues – including flus, and communicable diseases of all stripes. When we aren’t romanticizing things, the Boomers can point to multiple wars, even though the Social Strife of Vietnam, the Civil Rights Era, the Cold War, the Space Race, the Gas Crisis and other easily-capitalized threats garnered the most attention. Trust me, the Millennials, and those in Generations X,Y, Z and so on will have their litany of albatrosses and bogeymen to chronicle. We’ll start them off with Covid, Climate, and Planet-Wide Military Conflict. That’s just the ante. Remember, in their great scheme of things, it’s still early. The hand is not over until the last call, or until all bluffs are exposed.

So what is the point of this rumination?

I think I already said it, but it bears repetition. I and we are all going to live until we don’t, and so we ought to make the conscious decision to live – to whatever degree and in whichever ways our physical, mental, and financial circumstances will allow us – right up until the last second. All of us have some crazy hope that we will have enough of our faculties to influence our final months and days upon the Earth. However, philosophy, religion, superstition, and experience have all conspired to teach us otherwise.

The end confirms what we have denied all along: we are not in charge. So, rather than rehearse the tragedy that is the winter of my life, and by doing so, avoid making it a season of discontent, I will embrace the delusion that has presided over all my experiences. I can still be all that my dreams and wishes have promised I can be.

That there imaginary and prospective truck? That may not be the last vehicle I buy. Perhaps I will have my midlife crisis a little late, and I’ll buy a sports car, or better yet, a 1971 Mustang – the model, make, and year where they became powerful beasts. The point is not to make either purchase at all, but rather to avoid deciding in advance what will be my last act in any area, in any place, in any way.

The title of this essay is “Acquiesce,” but it is not intended to be ironic. Instead, the willful scaling back is intended to be more of a pep talk. Of course, “we are not that strength which in old days, moved earth and heaven.” I’d like to think an ‘equal temper of heroic hearts’ is enough to withstand, sustain, and prevail during this chapter. Perhaps it’s a final chapter; perhaps not. The epilogue needs to be written, but the author ought not to be ourselves.

The heirs have their job to do as well.

* Phil Repko is a career educator in the PA public school system who has been writing for fun and no profit since he was a teenager. Phil lives with his wife Julie in Gilbertsville and is the father of three outstanding children, two of whom are also poets and writers. He vacillates between poetry and prose, as the spirit beckons, and is currently working sporadically on a novella and a memoir.

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