What do you want out of life?
May 3, 2018

For a few hours when I was twenty years old I thought I’d never celebrate turning twenty-one. I was staying in an inexpensive motel during a summer in college while I worked construction, and late one night a guy pounded on my door and demanded to be let in. He gave up after a while, but I figured he’d be back -- with a tool that would help him enter my room quietly instead of breaking a window or kicking the door in.

I spent those few hours wondering if whatever the guy had planned would hurt, and I’ll spare you the imaginary details. But I also wondered, sure that night would be my last, if I’d genuinely tried to be a good kid. I thought so. All I wanted out of life, I decided, was to do a good job at it.

“I want to go home,” I thought. “To heck with this job. I want to sleep on the couch in our den with Dad in his bedroom just a few steps away.”

Is this what it meant to be a grownup? Living with my choices?

I questioned my decision to save money on a room so there would be more for tuition that fall. I’d been hell-bent on sampling the life of a construction worker. I didn’t see how I could possibly design bridges and highways without getting a feel for what it was like on the receiving end of an engineering blueprint. In that sense, I’d been mature. By cheaping out on accommodations? Not so much.

Was this what Dad was worried about? Why hadn’t I paid more attention?

highwayFinally it was going on five. Dawn. I grabbed my hard hat and locked the door to my room as quickly as I could. I got in the car and locked that door, too, like I always did -- and sped away toward my generally bright and usually very safe future.

One of the guys on the crew came back to my room that night with me, and helped me get settled in a better hotel. But I slept with a nightlight for the next thirty, thirty-five years -- until my fear of not sleeping well because of that light overtook my fear of the dark.

I’m still wary of strangers. More importantly, I’m wary of anyone who makes fun of people who are wary of strangers. Not everyone has your best interests at heart, after all.

As for the others? The people you love? It’s just so great to have another day on the planet to tell them you do.