When I was a young man I was frivolous with much. With money, with words, with companions, with women, with my life, with time. Especially with time.

At 54 I am no longer frivolous. Money is regularly earned, regularly spent and regularly placed in a retirement account. Women and drink, those great devourers of young men’s money—and some older men’s money—are no longer issues. Perhaps it is because I have become a better man, or perhaps it is because I can no longer afford them. Maybe I never could.

I talked too much and too loudly when young. Now I hoard words, treating them as things precious and few. I have learned that silence, being a scarce commodity, has more value than words which are available everywhere freely and in quantities infinite. At last I understand why there are monks who live their lives in silence. In the quiet they hear all that needs to be heard.

Of boon companions I had many in my youth. We drank together, lusted together, laughed together. We broke every law of God and man we could. In the end we betrayed each other in great messes of lies, violence, adulteries and alcohol. Of all those from my days as a young man I see none today. I have no idea where most are. I do not want to know. The reason is a simple one: They know a part of my past that is shameful. To meet them today would be to be reminded. I do not want to be reminded. I want to forget.

I once loved things and used people. Women were as cars. I would take one for a spin to see if I enjoyed the drive. If not—I seldom did—I would take out another. Even the keepers were only kept for a while before being discarded. I heard few complaints for women treated me as I treated them. The usual things were said. The usual things were done. The usual things were felt. All of it added up to precisely nothing.

I talked and I acted as if I were invulnerable. In a less delicate age the things I did would have got me shot to death.

I survived, but barely. There was that messy landing when skydiving. And that careless fall while rock climbing. I traveled though nations convulsed by civil war and revolution. I had close encounters with men and beasts south of the Rio Grande. I laughed through all of it, playing to the hilt the perfect invincible fool. At such memories I no longer laugh, I shudder.

When young I never—but never—thought of time. It was infinite and I bothered about it as much as I bothered about the wind. There was never a sense that it was running out like sand in an hourglass. I lived—I thought I lived—free from its constraints. I did as my flesh directed.

But biology is a hard master that cannot be long denied. When my 20s were a memory and my 30s were half gone I had my first intimations of age. There appeared something new, an odd slowness in body. Strange new pains made their presence known. Recovery from a night’s celebration of Bacchus took longer.

There was more, an exhaustion of mind and spirit. It showed itself in the mirror. Eyes once bright now were bleary. A mouth once quick to laugh now took a cynical turn. All the abuses of money, words, companions, women and life were coming to a head. I felt as if I lived in a cage.

Something had to be done. Something was done.

I sat at a small café in the late Spring of 1989. Unusually for Portland the sky was clear. On the ground beside me was a backpack. It contained all I thought I would need. Inside were tent, clothes and Thucydides. An acquaintance walked by and asked where I was going. My reply stunned her. “To Central America,” I said. With that I grabbed the pack, headed to the bus station and bought a ticket south.

We hear that you cannot run away from your problems. That is a lie. Sometimes the problems of a man are place and persons. Get away from them and he is free to become what Cicero called ‘a new man.’ I could not heed Horace Greely and go West—I was already West—but I could head beyond the reach of my old life. I could leave the old man behind and create a new one.

Since then there have been many ‘new men,’ each a bit better, a bit wiser, a bit more scarred, than the last. Some things once thought absolutely essential had to be discarded along the way. Odd, I do not miss them. A great weight has been lifted from me.

When I relate this tale to young men they laugh, a sound I know well. It is no great matter to me, as each man must cut his own way in this world. Some will die or become embittered along the way, but that is in the nature of things.

I am very much alive and know nothing of bitterness. There is a certain joy in getting older, a joy that is beyond the understanding of young men. I would never wish to return to my life of 20 years ago. All my thoughts of time look forward.

One day there will be at my door the Grim Reaper. I have seen him several times in my life but always from afar. Each time he got closer and closer. I do not fear the meeting. After he greets me all that I knew on this earth will melt away. It will become as shadows and dust. And it will happen in an instant. Time itself will be gone, its tyranny over my life broken forever. For Eternity knows nothing of time.

I will come face to face with the Creator of time. All that was my life will be known to Him. I will have nothing to offer but rags. On that day there will be surprises.

I hope that I like them.