Now, Smile for the Camera

It was the late comedian Mitch Hedberg who told a joke about a friend that showed him a picture and said, “Here’s a picture of me when I was younger.” Hedberg responded, “Every picture is a picture of you when you’re younger.”

I think this is brilliant. I think the truth is everything we did is something we did when we were younger. I say this because the world moves. We might not feel this happening. We can see it though. Either way, nothing ever stops. Time is the most awesome vehicle of all.

They say time heals all wounds. Then again, whomever said this might have said this on a good day. Perhaps this person never lost a child or a close loved one. But who knows? Besides, clichés are just clichés, right? Plus, you and I are two special people in this place we call a universe. We are more than a stereotypical phrase or expression. We are more than a figure of speech. We are part of this project called Project Earth.

I don’t know how this ends. I don’t know why they call ours The Human Race either. Maybe this is why they say nice guys finish last. Who knows? Besides, I don’t know if anyone really wins this race. As I see it, the finish line doesn’t seem too glorious. I think that first and foremost, the most inescapable fact about the human race is that no one gets out alive. Believe me. This is true. The mortality rate of being human is absolutely 100%. This means time is always fleeting. This means every second is invaluable because time is irreplaceable. Perhaps this means we should enjoy our time more.

I go back to Hedberg and his quick jokes. He’s right. Everything that’s happened to us thus far is something that’s happened when we were younger. Socrates once said, “The secret of change is not fighting the old but on building the new.”

I don’t have many pictures from my past. There are a few pictures which might be worthy of blackmail. There are some that I would find embarrassing. They are somewhere in an undisclosed location that I will keep to myself. There is a Polaroid picture of me somewhere. This is from a night out on a crazy binge. I had no idea where this picture came from. No one knew how the picture ended up in my back pocket. No one I was with had a camera I suppose someone wanted me to see myself staggering around. I suppose they wanted me to see how bad I looked, which I did look bad.
The next morning, I woke up in a pair of underwear and someone’s Led Zeppelin t-shirt that was three sizes too big on me. I had no recollection of the night before. At least, not much anyway.  I was told people tossed me in a bathtub after being catatonic and  leaning forward against a wall. Maybe I was trying to stop the world from spinning. Maybe my friend, Tom, didn’t want me dying in his house. Maybe it was the drugs. (I know it was.) Somewhere is the proof of this. And I know this because an old friend told me so. They said they kept this picture as a reference, just in case I ever decided to go back and dabble in the life again.

Somewhere, there’s a picture of me on my 21st birthday. This was during a Monday Night Football party at a bar called Sprats. I wasn’t drinking at this point in my life. However, young life is still young life and the need to be out and explore does not end because one does not drink. The bikini girls pressed up against me nice and close for the picture. I remember the expression on my face, which was wide-eyed and appreciative. 

There are some pictures of me from back when I lived on a farm. I keep them close to my heart. There are a few mugshots of me, which I am less than proud of. There are some pictures of me in the newspaper. I am proud of those.
I have a box that I talk about. I keep this box somewhere in the basement of my home. This is where the good stuff is. There is a picture of me when I was in preschool. There’s a few pictures of me from when I was 13. I have the album of this somewhere too.

An old friend once sent me a picture from when we were in middle school together. I’m sure this person meant well. Of course they did. What this person didn’t know is something they couldn’t have known. I could tell what I was thinking at the moment of this photograph. I could see the expression on my face. I could feel the old discomforts of being in a crowd, trying to fit, to be cool, or at minimum, to at least pretend as if I didn’t feel so incredibly out of place.. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I can say this is true. I can say that all of who I was is something that has created the man I am today. This is something to be proud of. (I’m sure the same goes for you too. In fact, I know it does.) I can say that some of the things that were seen as curses about myself have become blessings. I am a proud work in progress. We all are. And I’ve grown to learn this. I’ve also grown to appreciate this because living this way allows me to make mistakes without being overly critical of myself.

I can recall a teacher who told me, “Someone like you will be lucky to get a job pumping gas.”
I wish I had a picture of this moment.
I wish I could describe this man and his face. He was unpleasant at best, angry, overweight and certainly unhappy. He was a large man who resembled Fred Flintstone, which, by the way; the name alone infuriated this man.

He told me he wanted to beat me up. Actually, he said he would love to kick the shit out of me.  He told me he wanted to be there when I die so he could laugh. He said he wanted to spit on my grave and a whole bunch of other hateful things. I wonder what my expression was when he said this. I wonder what he was trying to honor by having this discussion. And, now, I have to admit this; I was definitely someone that provoked people. I was not a fan of teachers in my school and not too many of them were fans of mine either. So, it’s not like I don’t understand why this teacher spoke to me this way. I get it. Does it make what he did right? No, but hey. We’re all just people on this great big conveyor belt of a world. To err is human but to teach is certainly divine as well.

Oh, and for the record, I saw this man, decades later. He was old and still the same. He still had that same, angry look of disdain. And there he was, neck pushed forward, bushy eyebrows bent downwards to show his contempt for life and the people around him. I saw this man as he walked down the steps at a local diner. I just so happened to be walking up at the time.

There was an old piece of me that wanted to help him down the steps. Or better yet, in all honesty, there was a piece of me that wanted to kick him down the steps. But why?
He was wrong with what he said. He was wrong to have pushed me in a corner. He  threatened me. That was wrong. He put his hands on me. That was definitely wrong. His biggest wrong was his prediction of me. I am nothing of what he said I was. I have a job. One could say that I have a career. I’ve published books. I’ve been honored by local officials. I’ve been on the news and in the newspapers. I’ve worked and lived and grown. This is a success.

I’ve made my mistakes though. I admit to them. I admit to the links of my past, which have limited my aims towards my future. I admit to the times where I allowed the symptoms of my thinking to distract me from my potential. I can say that yes, I have had my bouts with my personal and trained biases. I have had my bouts with my subconscious programs and misled assumptions. I have listened to and played the tapes of my old limitations. And, if I allowed this to be true, then this would always be true, and this is all I would ever be,

I had to change more than my direction. I had to change more than my internal dialogue. I had to change my patterns so that I could change my thinking. I had to change my relationship with my past, I had to change my behavior to improve my emotions. And more than this, I had to realize that everything previous to this minute is gone. Yesterday is gone too. The past is unalterable. I have learned that today’s best living gives hope to my tomorrow. This way, my yesterday is not so bad anymore.
(Know what I mean?)

I don’t have too many pictures of me but what I do have is the presence of self. This allows me to move on from who I was so that I can create the man I choose to be. The best part about this is I can do this every day for the rest of my life.

Know what I call this?


Little Kimmel at about age 8 or 9

2 thoughts on “Now, Smile for the Camera

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