What is the longest project you have ever worked on?
My longest project is … me. I have been working on that literally my whole life, but the crystallizing moment. When I was going off to college, my father asked me what I wanted to be. Asking me a question like that is like trying to get a drink out of a fire hydrant. I recall telling him that I did not when I came to die discover that I had not lived. Of course, young men don’t talk that way. I didn’t either and when I went off to college, I had not yet read Thoreau for that cool quotation. What I really wanted back then was just to get a well-paying job where I didn’t have to work too hard. But looking back, it is what I wished I had said, what I should have said, and it was the start of my lifelong project. We all want to lead meaningful lives, but what does that mean?
It is actually very simple, if not easy. I am not going to lay out criteria, since each life is different. Everybody needs to find what is important for them but let me give you an example of a good life. There are many to choose from, but my example is someone I knew well, but did not grow up knowing.
Since I cannot be objective with my own parents, let me take Chrissy’s father as my example of a good man and a good life. Arnold Johnson was an ordinary guy. There is great nobility in being an ordinary guy, even if we do not often recognize it. He grew up in Wisconsin around friends and relatives. Worked hard and lived in a green and peaceful part of the world. The Driftless Area of Wisconsin is one of nature’s gifts to all who live or visit there.
When the call came to leave and to serve his country, he did so gladly, landing at Normandy and driving a tank across France with Patton’s army until he was severely wounded and sent to recuperate in England. He returned home after the war, married a wonderful woman, Pearl Olsen, and raised a family on the dairy farm where he had grown up, always providing for his kids and serving his community.
I knew him as an old man. Chrissy was child number six, born when Arnold was already forty-five, so he was about my age now when I met him (maybe not that old).
Arnold & Pearl Johnson retired from farming and move to the town of Holmen, right across form the Lutheran Church that was central to their lives. What impressed me about Chrissy’s parents was their rich social life. I don’t think you can have that anymore. People move too much. They saw friends and relatives that they had know for more than half a century. Arnold took “meals on wheels” to “old people” and was a valuable part of his community almost to the end of his long life.
He was mourned and remembered by many when he died and many more were grateful that he had lived.
The measure of a man is that simple. If lots of people are grateful that you lived, some not even aware BTW like my kids, you have had a successful life. This is available to everybody. It is simple but not always easy.
So this is my life project: to be a good man and lead a good life. If when I shuffle off this mortal coil, if I can be as successful as Arnold, I will be content.
This is my penultimate StoryWorth & this is a good question for the end. I think I will make up my own question for the last one. Not sure what that should be.
My first picture is Arnold & his older brother, Julian. Next is Arnold with his tank. Next is the Johnson Farm in Long Coulee. A coulee, BTW, is a long narrow valley caused by melting of glaciers. The glaciers skipped western Wisconsin, but their effects did not. Picture # 4 is Chrissy’s family. Chrissy is in the middle, stunningly beautiful. I always wondered how I was so lucky. And finally Pearl, Arnold, Chrissy, Espen & Alex.