There are some things…. incidences….. accidents….. circumstances over which we have no control or say. There are words we wish we could take back and there things we would prefer not to have on our CV. Worse still are the opportunities we did not seize or potential fortunes we left untouched. Perhaps we let them slip through our fingers ….. or put them off for another day…. and that day has long since passed.I have several of these……. but there are two in particular that shaped my life ….. hopefully for the better.It’s not that I don’t feel a twinge of guilt or pain when these memories flicker across my lobe …. but I can look back now and recognize them….. as warnings…… as milestones. They remain part of my psyche…. my schooling…. costly no doubt….. and like well worn text books, the lessons they teach are not easily forgotten.Growing up in Sydney I loved competitive sport.
I was not overly talented but I had stamina…. I didn’t give up easily…… maybe this is still true today….. which reminds me of that old proverb…. The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.Ain’t that true.
At the age of 15 some of my friends were drafted into the professional leagues of Soccer. I guess my heart burned a little with envy…. and because I harbored (like most teenagers) the dream of playing professional football (and scoring the winning goal in an FA cup final)….. I registered for a trial run with a second division team. And low and behold I made it into the squad.
Two or three days a week I would catch a bus and then a train to the practice sessions. It was at first a dream come true…. to be playing with the big boys….. ‘any minute now I would be discovered and whisked off to Chelsea for a trial‘. The coach was a fiery little Scotsman by the name of Jock…. and he was a mean SOB. He constantly yelled abuse, especially at us youngsters…. he had no regard for personal space (I needed a raincoat when he shouted at me)….. and his antidote for any mistake in training was to ‘do 10 more laps of the field’. I would come home exhausted and frustrated and only my pride would prevent me from telling my father that it was ‘hard going’.
There were a bunch of guys in my neighborhood, 5 or 6 years my senior…. and I looked up to them. They had just started a new soccer club and were really pushing me to join, which was most flattering to me, a 15 year old kid. I agreed to go to a training run…. just for fun….. and fun it was. The players were a mixture of good amateurs and retired professionals….. and the practice game…. the banter….. the beer(s) afterwards (this was Australia)…. well it was wonderful….. and I was really made to feel part of the team.For a few weeks I continued to train with both squads and then it came crunch time and I had to decide one way or another. And I chose friendship over ‘my dream’….. and told the Scotsman that I was not ready for the professional league and that I would come back the following year.
On one hand…. this was a good move….. I enjoyed a season of quality amateur football …….. and made friendships that have lasted to this day.
However, when I returned the following year to join the ranks of the professionals…. all the players my age had developed…. they were stronger, tougher, faster…. meaner. They had become true professionals in every aspect of their game and demeanor and though I too had been playing against men much older than myself….. I had spent a year playing for fun……. while the young pros had been training to win…. at any cost.
I knew after several training sessions with the Scotsman that I was not making the grade…… I just didn’t have that killer instinct…. I had been left behind.
I was cut from the squad and I went back to playing in the park with my mates.
It was a missed opportunity. One that I regretted for many years….. still do….. and wonder to this day “how far could I have gone?”…… I will never know.However, when given the opportunity of moving to LA 18 years later….. when offered the chance to pursue my dream of writing and recording in the epicenter of the music world….. well…. I did not think twice. I jumped.
Today, sitting at my desk here in Hollywood adjacent….. I wonder. If I had not squandered the earlier opportunity would I have been so reckless…. so determined to pursue the latter?
One Christmas I went caroling with a few friends to a retirement home. I was 17 or 18….. and there was this girl I liked….. and she was going caroling and …. well so was I. The old folks appreciated our gesture and joined in our little sing-a-long. All expect this one old man. He stayed by himself, refusing to move from ‘his chair’.
I guess I have always been attracted to social misfits (look in the mirror) and so I went over to talk to him. This didn’t work out too well and despite my best Christmas cheer I didn’t get more than a few words out of him….. and they weren’t friendly. Soon the other carolers were signaling to me. It was time to move on….. we had to sing for another group of elderly people…. whether they liked it or not.This old fellow had a sadness to him…. and it was contagious and I could not get him out of my mind.
And so the next day I went back to see him. If he was moved in any way by my return visit he did not show it….. and it took quite a few moments of small talk to learn that his name was Errol and that he had fought in the first world war…. and that was about it. Every few weeks or so I would drop by to say hello…. often just sitting by his bed…. telling him about my day….. and gradually we became friends.
One day I went to the Home and he was gone. He had been moved to another Home some 50 miles south….. and so after much umming and ahhring…… I drove down to visit Errol.
He was quite shocked to see me walk into his room (dorm) and that day he opened up to me a little. I learned that his wife had long since passed away and that he had lost his only son in a car accident….. and apart from a brother with whom he had lost contact…. he was alone. He also told me that he was dying of cancer.
I should have kept going down to see him. He was in my mind often but one thing after another distracted me. There was one week in particular….. everyday I had this sense that I should visit Errol… but each day would pass and then I would promise myself that ‘tomorrow I’ll go’. When I finally made the hour and a bit drive down the coast, I walked into his room and his bed had been stripped and all his belongings were missing. When I asked a nurse about his whereabouts she asked if I was a relative. I said ‘no I was a friend’.
Then she told me that he had died the day before.
The day before………I was stunned…… it was like someone had punched me in the the stomach. I wanted to talk to someone…. but who would understand my anguish…… my guilt. I wanted to take back the last few days and do it all over again. I wish I could have been there to help Errol…. even say goodbye…. if that were at all possible.
I went to his funeral two days later. A very simple affair at his request….. just a burial really. There was the grave digger, the chaplain …… and me. It was painful…. and seemed to last an eternity.
There are consequences for inaction…. for neglect….. for apathy…. for carelessness….. for selfishness….. and for taking life, talent, time, love and people for granted.
This was a tough lesson for me. Writing this opens the wound a little.But now when I am stirred to call or visit someone….. or to give …. or even pray for someone…… I tend to act sooner than later.It’s almost as if Errol’s death gave me new life.