The Sears store in the city I live in is closing. I stopped and took the picture below just today.
Years before there was Amazon.com, there was the Sears catalog. We were a military family, so, while retail stores varied depending on where you lived in the United States, Sears was everywhere, and getting that catalog every year was a big deal for us.
I remember becoming obsessed over things like pup tents and Batman sheets and pillowcases through the Sears catalog. Sitting down and looking at it, with my family, is quite a memory.
That was years ago, though, and the juggernaut corporation of yesterday is the empty building of tomorrow. As it happens, I work for a very large company (at headquarters of one the nation’s largest insurers), and I can tell you — every thinking person in corporate life is aware that companies have a lifespan.
Eventually, your technology is outdated, your product is passé, your platform is no longer cool, your restaurants don’t draw enough customers, or your stores can’t turn inventory over. Then, your company is done.
Many younger people will only know Sears as what it has been in recent years. I will always remember it for what it was to me as a kid.
Looking at the soon-to-be empty building housing Sears reminds me: I feel myself like I’m already a spectacular failure, but nobody’s noticed yet. My view of my own life is something like a Greek tragedy: I try to do the right things, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m fatally flawed and doomed to disappoint everyone who means anything to me.
I’ve recently had the experience of making two people who I genuinely liked (these are two totally different situations) extremely miserable. So I’ve got that going for me.
I called my mother last week, and, for at least part of the conversation, she wasn’t sure who I was or what we were talking about.
I gently reminded her who I was, and it did come back to her.
I also pointed out that not knowing who you are and what you are talking about appears to be a heritable quality. She said, if I indeed have those qualities, I came by them honestly.
Whoever I am.
When I was in college, I dated, for a couple of years, off-and-on, a young woman who went on to be a professional opera singer. We are now friends on Facebook. She posted a video of her 10th grade daughter singing the “Pie Jesu” from the Requiem of Gabriel Fauré.
It was beautiful. Transcendental.
(This is not that performance, by the way, which was private and will be kept so. This just sounded as close to it as I could find on SoundCloud.)
Many of the comments on the video were of the “like mother, like daughter” variety. Which brings up the subject of genetics.
Heritable qualities are quite the mystery. I recently read a book which contained the memorable line, “Heredity is just the first draft.” The final story depends on the many rewrites life imposes on it, but something of the original structure remains.
Frequently, discussions about scientific matters become discussions about morals. Many people think that granting genetics any importance in people’s lives or personalities is an immoral belief. Given the historical uses that “heredity” has been put to (justifying ethnic genocide being one of them), this is an understandable fear.
Still, there’s more to genetics than just my mother’s and my tendency to forget who we are and what we are saying.
We ate lunch at a Mexican buffet today called “La Nacional”. My wife, my pregnant daughter, and her nearly two year old son were there. He is at an age where he becomes inconsolable any time his mother is out of his sight. When she took her turn to get a plate at the buffet, he started to cry, very loudly. So I took him outside.
It was a bright, beautiful day here today, so I spoke to him in a low voice saying “Now, now, we can’t be caterwauling at the restaurant… those people didn’t pay to hear that… your mom will be right back after she gets her food… look at all those cars.”
He had stopped crying. He was fascinated by the cars. He pointed at different ones he liked (I’m guessing he liked them. Either that or he was pointing out structural or aesthetic defects). After a few minutes, we went back in and he ate.
“What made you think of doing that?” my wife asked.
“I’m not sure. I thought maybe if we were where it was quieter [the restaurant was really loud and crowded] it would be easier to calm him down. But he’s fascinated by cars, it turns out.”
“Just like his father,” my wife pointed out.
Throughout my life, most people who’ve known me have said that I should be able to do anything I put my mind to. Another way to view this is, no matter what my failings might be, I have no excuse.
I have an education, and a career, and a family, and, notwithstanding some long-term health issues, my life has been freer of difficulty than many people’s. Therefore, I should be have done more, been more, and been better than I have been.
My wife doesn’t view me this way (well, occasionally she does) but most other people who’ve known me do. My friends in high school say I should have been a composer of movie music, maybe for a studio like Disney. Other friends say I should have been a concert pianist. Still others that I should have written books. Or risen higher in the field I am in.
“But what do you say you should have been?”
I hear a voice asking. I don’t know. I have so many questions…
Am I nothing but a soon-to-be-empty store?
Am I destined to disappoint the people who matter to me?
If I one day forget who I am, will I have really lost anything?
Should have I have made more out of my genetic first draft?
In the meantime, if you are looking for me, I’ll be outside, watching the cars go by…