One more lie. All I had to do was tell one more lie in a lifetime full of lies and I would have been free. Would have gotten my wings back. Wouldn’t be here. But it was like, in a lifetime full of lies, I had finally reached my limit and could not lie one more moment. ~ Denzel Washington as alcoholic airline pilot Whip Whitaker in 2012 movie, Flight
People say that you always have to tell the truth. But they do not mean this because you are not allowed to tell old people that they are old and you are not allowed to tell people if they smell funny or if a grown-up has made a fart. And you are not allowed to say, ‘I don’t like you,’ unless that person has been horrible to you.” ~ Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. ~ Norman Vincent Peale
BY LIONEL FISHER author of Celebrating Time Alone.
“There’s one thing you ought to know about old people,” Alberto Terégo told me on our early morning walk on the beach.
“Like what?” I asked my friend in reply.
“Like old people don’t mind if you kill them,” Terégo said. “Just don’t give them any more crap while you’re doing it.”
“Are you talking about yourself?” I said. “You’re telling me you’d rather have someone kill you than give you a hard time?”
My head was starting to hurt. It usually did when I talked with Terégo, but never so soon into our daily conservation. He was grinning now, knowing he had me again. I just stared at him. He has this uncanny knack of making me feel he’s laid a booby trap of punji sticks on which I’m about to impale myself.
“That’s ridiculous,” I said finally, feeling like a kid for not being able to come up with a better response to his bizarre suggestion.
“No, it’s life,” Terégo said, the grin growing larger.
“What’s life?” I said.
“Taking crap,” he said.
“Taking crap is life?” I said.
The grin hung ear to ear now. “It’s what nice people do,” Terégo said. “There’s an 18th century proverb that says we all have to eat a peck of dirt before we die. We do it from an early age, so old people have been doing it for a very long time, way beyond the proverbial amount that broke the camel’s back.”
“Eating dirt is life?” I said, feeling the pain grow under my arched eyebrows.
“That’s right,” he said.
“Eating dirt?” I repeated dully.
“We do it to be team players, so we don’t rock the boat, to go with the flow,” Terégo said. “We put up, shut up, get along–no matter what–with people even the Dalai Lama would slap silly. We defer to their foolishness, stupidity, biases, racism, ego, telling them what they want to hear, keeping quiet when we ought to be speaking up loud and clear. We put a sock in it even though it chokes us. We do it so we won’t offend, to fit in, be neighborly, sociable, kind. We do it so people will like us, love and reward and hire and promote us. We do it to be successful, secure, happy.”
“We eat dirt to be happy,” I said, my eyes starting to glaze over like frost on deep-winter window panes.
“You see the supreme irony in that,” Terégo said, the triumph in his voice rising palpably, galling me no end. My head was throbbing as well, but I was hooked on ther conversation now, impaled is more like it. Terégo knew I would be because he knew me, knew that most of the time I felt the same way he did about almost everything.
We’re old friends, you see, the best of friends, you might say, ever since our first meeting at the beach going on eighteen years ago. “My name is Alberto Joaquin Villareal Terégo,” he’d introduced himself that bright spring morning at the water’s edge. Teh-reh-go,” he pronounced the last name for me, leaning on the second syllable. “You can call me Alberto,” he said. “But not Al–never Al,” he added quickly. I liked him immediately.
Terégo is the only curmudgeon I know–besides myself, that is–a man around my age, both of us starting to resemble every old coot you ever saw. He lives alone on a reclusive Pacific Northwest beach as I do. Invariably cheerful, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, he’s usually found strolling with his dog by the water’s edge where the day is always coolest.
They’re always a welcome sight to me and my own dog, Halley. A thoughtful person living an examined life in the fullest sense of the word, Terégo seems to enjoy my company as well. Over the years we’ve discussed virtually everything under the sun on our walks by the sea. Because he’s an insatiable reader with a storehouse of timeless quotes, he’s an astute and entertaining conversationalist who usually drives home his points in other people’s words.
The other day, for instance, I made the remark, “You gotta do what you gotta do,” and he came back with an old German proverb that said the same thing much more eloquently: “One must carve one’s life out of the wood one has.”
Or if I say something like, “Most people are ambivalent about solitude,” he’ll counter with a pungent line such as Susan Ertz’s classic observation, “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
If he weren’t such articulate, enjoyable company he’d be a pain-in-the-butt know-it-all. Needless to say, I enjoy his company immensely.
“So you’d rather eat a bullet than take any more crap?” I said.
“Wouldn’t you?” Terégo asked in reply.
“Hell, no,” I said.
And we left it at that.
Before peeling off the beach with his dog, though, he said something that left me with a lousy feeling I couldn’t shake.
“You know,” Terégo said in parting, “at the end of the day the only thing you really own is your integrity. At the end of your life it’s the only thing that really matters.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I retorted.
Terégo shrugged. “Guess I don’t want to die with the taste of dirt in my mouth,” he said. “There’ll be enough time for that when I’m taking the big dirt nap.”
This article is part of a series of articles. Read more of Lionel’s work below!
Photo by: Jo Christian Oterhals