The imprint we leave behind

It may seem self-evident to you, but it surprises me every time, when I have that instantaneous realization about how off track I am, no matter how sure I seem to be (to me) about where I’m going. Let me explain.

I just came back from a two-day book tour in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, where I did various book tour things . . . visited bookstores to sign my new (and old) books, spoke before three different audiences totaling about 450 owners and managers of small to mid-size businesses, taped several television and radio interviews, and, generally, drove around a lot hoping to make an impact on the world. At times I’m certain I did, at times I am not so certain, and at times I’m absolutely certain I failed on a seismic scale to make a dent in the slumber of the people I met. “Hi, I’m Michael Gerber. Hi. Hi? Hello?”

But, that isn’t the epiphany I started out to share with you. It happened, as it so often does, in the middle of the night. It was either Sunday night or Monday night, the days are compressed into a blot in my memory of indistinguishable moments, events, insights, experiences, all of which get tossed about in my rapidly aging consciousness like a salad of sometimes tasty and sometimes wilted ingredients . . . was that a carrot, was that a radish, was that iceberg, spinach, romaine? . . . to the point where all I can muster, if I’m forced to, is a generalized expression of what happened and where and with whom which becomes condensed in my memory as “The Book Tour to Cincinnati and Dayton,” and I most often leave it at that.

So, it was either Sunday or Monday night when I lay awake in the hotel room looking at the ceiling; my restless mind wishing it was time to get up, which it wasn’t, I believe it was 2 a.m. at the time, and suddenly came to the stark, cold realization that I was 68 years old, trying vainly to sleep in a hotel room all for the purpose of selling some books.

“Oh, my God, I’m still a book salesman!,” my mind suddenly said. And with a rush, I realized I was the same guy, no different, no more enlightened, no wiser, albeit much richer . . . I had sold a lot of books, and they were mine . . . the mirror of my mind shot me back an image of myself that was too stark, too harsh, too sudden, and too astonishing in its depressing clarity, too early in the morning for the likes of me, and I shot up out of bed and began walking around.

Which is what I wanted to share with you.

If you’ve read my books, you know that years and years and years ago I sold encyclopedias seemingly for an endless amount of time. Door-to-door, hand-to-mouth, sale-to-sale, up-and-down like a yo-yo in the hand of someone else who I didn’t know, but who kept on throwing that yo-yo called me, up-and-down, over-and-out, doing tricks with my life that I never knew I was going to do until I did them. And I thought I had left that all behind.

That’s my point. That’s my little epiphany: I thought I’d left that all behind.

Have you ever had that happen? Oh, yes, dear brother and sister, you have. And if you think not, look again. I thought I’d left that all behind. And, here, holy moly, here it is again! In a hotel room in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the middle of a sleepless night. Come to face me, for absolutely no discernable reason other than it was. Come to face me with the realization that time, my time, your time, our time, is not what we think it is. And, our history, your history, my history, is a snapshot, a sudden, remarkably brief instant, which, compressed, becomes the reality, the thumbprint, the DNA we leave behind.

Which means, if you can help it, try not to have sleepless nights. Unless you have a lot more time than I did. Or, at least, sleep in a different hotel.