“If you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.” – Bruce Lee, The Art of Expressing the Human Body
The ring finger from his right hand was missing, a wedding ring caught a nail while falling from a ladder in a textile mill. He rubbed his face and slicked back his hair with that hand, stirring an odor of soft cologne. He only talked when he had to. Most of what he had to say had been said. There was no need for idle chatter. His smile or the furrowing of his brow said plenty. And he took his teeth out when it was time to eat. He preferred toast over biscuits and enjoyed instant coffee.
Born in the early 20th Century, he was now tired but content. The old man leaned back in his porch swing, pulling his right foot into the seat with him and allowing the other leg to dangle. He used the knee of his right leg as a rest for his arm to support the hand that held his cigarette. Blue smoke curled around his face and body before disappearing in the wind. Stories buried deep in his brain. Wisdom embedded in his wrinkles. He had regrets that many would never understand. Regrets of not being injured, not even scratched, while those he loved died all around him. Small sips of “nerve medicine” would calm his shakes and open his heart, if only for a moment or two. His grandson would be there to listen and ask ridiculous questions.
The old man wore two things: slacks and a tie or blue coveralls . . . or both. He loved his little farm; the quiet scene juxtaposed the chaotic pieces of his life. On trips to this farm to feed his cows, he would tell his grandson about loving a tiny, Irish school teacher in the town of Newcastle before leaving for North Africa under the command of General Fredendall to battle Field Marshal Rommel in a place called Kasserine Pass; then it was on to places like Anzio and Casino.
In The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw tells a story of the day Gordon Larsen came into the post office where Tom’s mother worked. Larsen was typically a cheerful and popular member of their community, but that day he had stopped in to complain about the rowdiness of the teenagers the night before, which had been Halloween. Brokaw’s mother was surprised at his tone and asked him good naturedly, “Oh Gordon, what were you doing when you were seventeen?” Gordon looked at her squarely in the eye and said, “I was landing at Guadalcanal.” He then turned and left the post office. These were men who were surely mature beyond their years.
Our passion for life should hold no bounds. Our life should extended across generations to those who will continue to care for the small blessings in life. We are in fact limitless.