Tom latched on to this comment as it had piqued his interest. “That’s an interesting perspective. Michele’s good life is what is good for her. Is there any universal definition that could fit everybody?”
John looked at Tom with a smile. It was a comment the college-aged Tom would’ve made. “I’m sure there is. We all need some things to call our lives good.”
“That’s right,” Alan assented. “Like a wife. A man needs a good wife.”
“Let’s make it more generic. A person needs a good mate,” Tom said.
“The mate can’t be just there for the typical things though,” John said as he shuffled the cards. “A mate must be a person’s partner in a great quest.”
“A soul mate,” Michele said simply. “What you’re talking about is a soul mate. Not someone to just cook the dinner or bring home the money. Someone to bond with for life.”
John smiled. “Yeah, babe . . . a soul mate.”
“No arguments here,” Alan concluded. “You need more than that though.” He paused a second, considered his hand, and then played a card. “You need to be of use. Do something that is useful. Whether it is being a doctor or building roads or even being an engineer like John.”
“Gee, thanks, Dad,” John replied. “I’m glad you think I might be good for something.”
“I can agree with that idea,” Tom said. “We all need to be employed gainfully in a manner that positively impacts society.”
John frowned at Tom’s comment. “There’s something not quite right with the way you said that. We must seek a career that asks for our best efforts. It is important that the impact we have is that which we choose it to be . . . not that chosen for us.”
“Why don’t you just say we need to be happy with our job?” Michele added. “In order to have the good life you need a soul mate and a productive enterprise that makes you happy.”
“Hmm.” Tom considered this. “Sounds good . . . sounds good.”
“Yes, it sounds good but it is not complete,” John said. “You must have a measure of freedom of action. You must make you own choices, choose your own destiny, be your own man . . . or woman.”
“Hear! Hear!” Alan commented. “Freedom.”
Tom smiled at this comment. Yeah . . . that’s Dad. Fought in the war, goddamnit. Double U Double U Eye Eye . . . THE BIG ONE.
. . .
“Just how old are you?” Jim inquired.
“Twenty-six,” Tom answered.
“God! Twenty-SIX! Wow. I can’t imagine being that old.”
“No kidding,” John commented. “Eight years ago I couldn’t have imagined it myself.”
“So is the old saw right?” Jim asked.
“What old saw?” Tom inquired.
“The one about enjoying your teenage years . . . you know . . . sixteen to eighteen . . . because they’re the best of your life,” Jim answered.
John laughed. “No, little cousin. The best is yet to come.”
Jim was surprised by this answer. “For you too?”
“Yeah,” John answered.
“I don’t know,” Jim continued. “College. What’s it like?”
Tom was still pondering Jim’s question, so he let John and Jim talk. As they talked he kept asking himself: Were those the best years of my life? Is the best yet to come?
. . .
Tom thought on this some more. “It’s like the conversation that we were having last night on the good life. You need a soul mate, productive enterprise that helps others, and freedom. I almost think I’ve had more of those three in high school.”
“Hold on just a second,” John interrupted. “I don’t disagree with what you’ve said, but there’s something else. Or maybe it attaches to the productive enterprise trait. The good life is aspiring to greatness. I’ve thought about this a lot. Society thinks greatness is in the material things, a person’s height, hair, weight, the school he graduated from, the car he’s driving, the women he’s dating, and so on. All of these things are considered the sum total of our characters . . . of our lives. They are NOT. Greatness is to strive for an ideal that is above yourself. To strive for an ideal that transcends that which you are. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be your family, defending the country like Dad did, standing up for great ideas or for God or even for the creation of wealth. But that is the spark of the spirit of the greatness of humanity. Pick an ideal, any ideal, and shoot for it. You will make your own luck, create your own opportunities. Power isn’t granted, it comes from within. The years in which you aspire to the highest ideals are your happiest years.”
. . .
“So nothing matters?” Tom asked.
“Nothing that you don’t control,” John replied.
“And if you get hit by a car tomorrow?”
“I’ve lived the good life. I think we must live our lives day to day so that if our life ends a moment from now it will make no difference on whether or not we have lived the good life.”
“What about your pleasure principle?” Tom said as he flipped out a card.
“Hah!” Alan exclaimed as he smacked a trump card on Tom’s ace.
“Dad got me off of that. Satisfaction is too shallow. We feel good and bad from day to day. Hell, we feel good and bad within a given day. So what is it? It’s being ourselves . . . our best selves that we can be and adapt from day to day,” John stated.
“Yes!” Tom assented. “To live the good life is to be authentic. Not to put on a show or a face for anyone or anything. Not to put on airs or put down others.” Tom’s voice deepened with meaning. “For God’s sakes, we should stand up and be the person that we are: unashamed and unafraid. We should meet our unchosen challenges as completely and honorably as we can. And most importantly, we should seek out those challenges that are the greatest we can find. Challenges that ask for our best efforts.”
“We must do that from day to day,” John picked up the thread. “Every day, regardless of what happens. Continue to aspire to that which transcends what we are.”
“While yet retaining what we are. No phonies.”
“That is the good life.”
“God darn kids.”