Ruling the World My Way

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As I write this, alone, past midnight on June 12/13, 2012, I listen to an endless replay of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, a tear welling in my eye, as I see my life passing before me.

For a long time, the song that most defined me was Sinatra’s My Way. Not Paul Anka’s My Way, but Frank Sinatra’s. I know it’s a cliché, and I’ve asked my family never to play that song as an homage to life at my wake. I’ve asked that primarily because it’s a cliché, not because it’s not appropriate, or, at least, wasn’t appropriate.

There was something about Sinatra’s defiance that makes his interpretation of Anka’s lyrics so alluring. Even as a high school teenager, I found myself attracted to the song and, in particular, Sinatra’s stiff chinned version. Sure, I liked the eternal optimism of The Impossible Dream, but that tune, without a definitive version, had only the poetry of its lofty lyrics.

Of course, My Way, being Sinatra’s song, it could never become me. On the other hand, nothing prevented me from becoming it. By my senior year in college, My Way became my guiding light in a way The Impossible Dream could never be. Yes, it’s true, as I sang it to the piano playing of a fellow classmate as my parents and grandparents approached me across the Davenport courtyard in the days before graduation, My Way did present a fairly accurate assessment of my years as a Yale undergraduate. Defiantly honest, I had my share of defeats, but they only led to greater accomplishments.

But, more than a look back, My Way represented my blueprint for my future. The Impossible Dream spoke of courage, of a crusade, of forever striving, yet, for all its hope, certainty, and assurance, this song, even the Andy Williams version, says nothing of accomplishment, only quest. And, as I’ve long believed, without deeds, the journey of life becomes nothing more a mere waste of time.

Look at the way each song treats the end. My Way implies a list of decisions, actions, and achievements. The Impossible Dream states the purity of intent alone satisfies the mortal soul. As a design for one’s life, only My Way offers the opportunity to say, “I did all that.” So, yes, in the years since graduation and to this day, I’ve had regrets (a few), I’ve taking my share of blows and I haven’t won everything I’ve tried. But I’ve done things. Whatever road I chose to travel, I visited. If I’ve wanted something, I planned carefully and did what I had to do (within the law, of course).

And I especially liked biting off more than I could chew. When my parents said I couldn’t do all the things I was doing in college, I calmly told them I was like a shark, I had to constantly keep moving lest I die. When friends wondered how I not just got involved in many things, but occupied so many leadership positions concurrently and – here’s the kicker – performed well above the norm, they asked me if I ever slept. I told them there’s time enough for that when you’re dead.

With My Way, it was always “what could be.” And, more often than not, “what could be” was. Life continued a constant conversion of “what could be’s” into “was’s.”

But then Peter used Viva La Vida as background music to a photo montage of our family’s trip to Italy. For some reason I can’t explain, that song stopped me in my tracks. Yes, the lyrics “I used to rule the world” and “Roman cavalry” fit perfectly with the ancient ruins in our pictures. But there was more. Something strong. Something bittersweet. Something that was telling me, “this is your eulogy.”

In a way, by doing things My Way, I indeed ruled the world, or, at least, that little space in the world which I travel (which, in a sense, is all that matters). Alas, where My Way inspired “what could be,” Viva La Vida laments “what’s left undone” in a way that reminds there will always be things left undone, no matter how carefully one chart’s the course, no matter how carefully one plans each step.

In the end, one can only hope to pass the mantel to capable hands, because, if there’s one thing certain, the mantel will be passed…

…and as I conclude with what might seem a depressing, but honest, assessment of life, Wally, ever the faithful beagle, brings his blanket up to me and leaps up, placing his front paws on my lap. He’s looking at me with his deep brown puppy-dog eyes as if to say, “It’s all right. Now stop writing and go to bed.”

He’s right. On both counts.

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