June 21, 2012

We should listen to Kenny Rogers

by Lorraine Collins

I've never been a great fan of what we call country and western music because I thought it all seemed to be about broken hearts and broken promises, loneliness, trains missed and dogs that died. But sometimes it does reflect common human experiences and things that are true and important. One good example is a song made famous by Kenny Rogers---"The Gambler."

It's been running through my mind quite a bit lately because of the advice the gambler offers to the narrator: "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Apparently the gambler didn't learn that too well himself because, after he's bummed a cigarette and a drink of whisky from a fellow he met on a "train to nowhere", he dies.

Yet,  his advice is still good: know when to hold and when to fold, not just in poker, but in life. I've been trying to figure that out myself lately, and I know if we could all learn that, everything might be easier for us. For instance, in the last year we've witnessed events in Egypt and Libya when dictators just refused to give up their power and ended up dooming themselves and their countries to a long ordeal. Still, the boss of Syria hasn't seemed to get the message that there's a time to fold.

In the recent Republican presidential nomination contest, one fellow might have bailed out a bit early, but others hung on way past the bitter end. So sometimes we do give up too soon, maybe because of a lack of grit, or because of a sudden realization that the goal is most likely unattainable, so we cut our losses. But in most cases we don't fold too soon but just hang on too long because we hate to give up whatever we have enjoyed doing.

There are a lot of examples. Many of us can name a famous professional quarterback who didn't know when to retire, and in music and the arts we've seen performers who would have been better off leaving their reputations intact with a graceful exit. Great literary works have been written about faded geniuses or warriors trying to regain former glory. It's not that we lack examples. It's just hard to recognize those same tendencies in ourselves.

I remember when I was a kid not wanting to come home from playing kick the can even though it was getting pretty dark. When my mother called me to come in, I protested that I was still having fun. She said, "Always quit when you're having fun." That's pretty good advice, too, though many of us wait until everything isn't quite as much fun as it used to be.

Of course I'm leading up to something here. It's been hard to decide to leave the Black Hills after enjoying 26 years living in Spearfish Canyon and Spearfish, but the time has come for my husband Keith and me to do so, as we've recognized it's time to fold. We've had a lot of fun here, flying airplanes, driving Model Ts, riding bikes, hunting deer, playing golf, attending plays, concerts, and even opera here in the Black Hills. But to tell the truth, as time has gone on the years have accumulated in our bones. It's just about too late to quit while we're still having fun.

One thing that has been fun for me is writing this column for the last six years. For the first several months I wrote a column once a week, then faded to twice a month and I eventually  realized that writing a column once a month is the best I can do if I'm going to do anything else, like laundry. There certainly has been a lot to write about. When I put together a collection of my columns last year there were 90 commentaries in seven different categories and it's really hard to think of something I haven't written about. I've enjoyed it and I really appreciated the response from readers over the years. Thanks.
Now it's time to start cleaning out the house and the garage and to pay attention to another line in "The Gambler." It's about "knowing what to throw away and what to keep." Good luck with that one. 

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at collins1@midco.net

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