I was a strange kid. Many would argue that I'm also a strange adult -- but I'm not in the mood for arguing, so I'll just accept it as fact.
When other kids wanted to be pro athletes or firefighters or cowboys when they grew up, I yearned to be a major league baseball umpire or priest or ornithologist. Aspiring to become an umpire at thirteen meant that I gave up on my athletic dreams at an earlier age than any American-born heterosexual boy in history. The priest thing at eleven meant I had lost hope in ever landing a girlfriend that didn't require a bicycle pump. And, the desire to become an ornithologist (basically a bird scientist) at age twelve was just plain creepy. Looking back on those Sunday morning birdwatching hikes with my mother and the local chapter of the National Audobon Society, I don't know how I ever avoided an adulthood filled with frilly pink dresses, self-induced lisps and Cher worship.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I should be able to look back on those days and laugh. But all I can do is cringe. To think of all the things I missed out on in my youth. While my friends were playing baseball, I was calling balls and strikes for nine-year-olds. When other kids in my class were starting to notice girls, I was acting out a Roman Catholic mass using a Pringle potato chip as the "body of Christ." And, when others were just waking up at a friend's house after a sleepover, I was in the metroparks tracking down a Great Horned Owl or tufted titmouse or yellow-bellied sapsucker. Sheesh.
What a loser.
I'm not entirely sure how or when I turned the corner and started to act like a normal human. My father's perpetual look of disappointment probably had something to do with it. Having a brother almost three years younger and four times cooler than me could also have had an impact. Whatever it was, I came out of my trance and started to participate in "normal" activities. I played CYO football, basketball and baseball in eighth grade. I played football in high school. My voice changed. Hair started growing in normally smooth places. Girls who once sprinted away from me without looking back when I approached, slowed their survival strategy to a liesurely gallop with a quick glance back over their shoulder to make sure I wasn't gaining on them.
Things were progressing nicely. I graduated from high school. I went to college. I graduated in only six years. Got a job. Got married. Got another job. Got a house. Got a mortgage. Had some kids. Got a few more jobs. A dog. Another house. Another mortgage. A second mortgage. Another job.
And, here I am. A perfectly normal life.
Yet, when you look at all the responsibility that comes with a normal life, you have to wonder if it's all worth it. Loads of stress and things I really didn't take into account when I hung up my binoculars and "Peterson's Complete Field Guide to North American Birds."
Now I have to think about paying bills and sending three kids to college and retirement. My wife has needs too -- like fixing things around the house, yardwork and free backrubs. And the kids? Apparantly, when you sign kids up for activities, you're supposed to actually drive them to the actitity and, get this, stay for the entire thing, then drive them home afterward. So much for my "me" time.
But, I made my bed. So...
The other day my wife and I went to dinner at the classic suburban Italian chain restaurant, Macaroni Grill. It's a nice enough place, with nice enough food. About five minutes after being seated, we notice a group of five priests walking in. But they're not just walking in, they're practically skipping into the restaurant. Big smiles on their faces. Laughing. Talking kind of loud about something. Each and every one of the men in black seemingly without a care in the world.
I turn to my wife and ask, "Look at those guys. How can they be so, so, so...happy?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's the eggplant parmesan special."
"No, that's not it. You know what it is?"
"No... tell me."
"When they were younger no one told them to put the Pringles down."
"What are you talking..."
"They said to the world, 'I don't need to be normal.' And you know how that turned out for them?"
"They live on their own, someone cooks for them, someone cleans for them, they work once a week and probably watch porn all day when they're not printing out next Sunday's talk from FreeSermons.com. They don't have to worry about what they're going to wear every day -- black shirt, black pants, black socks, black shoes. They don't have to tie a tie, they just stick a piece of white plastic into the top of their black shirt. That's it, they're done."
"And, talk about job security," my wife added.
"Yeah, isn't that the truth. Priests don't have to worry about resumes or headhunters or monster.com. Good economy or bad, God pays them the same salary."
Part of me wanted to go over and ask them what was so funny. But I already knew.
"You know honey, I think you're right. It must be the eggplant parmesan."
My wife just smiled and said, "I'll take that backrub when we get home."