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Jewish World Review Jan. 4, 1999 /25 Teves, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The person in your mirror just got wiser -- UH . . . YOU STILL there?

Hope so. I don't have any real way of knowing. If you look up at the top of the page, you will notice that the date is Jan. 4. But because of production deadlines, the column itself was written and locked into place back in another century.

Friday, to be precise. All of a sudden, though, last Friday can be seen as a dusty artifact of a long-gone age. Whatever madness -- technological or otherwise -- did or did not occur at midnight Friday is something I had no way of knowing when I wrote these words. Way back in the 20th Century.

Which is a concept that all of us might be smart to embrace, by the way. This morning, we have all been presented with a fine opportunity, if only we are astute enough to recognize it. We can all -- quite truthfully -- make ourselves seem a lot wiser, a lot more seasoned, than we could even 48 hours ago.

Let's say that you're a physician, you can -- for the first time in your career -- say in an offhanded manner to the patient you are examining: "You know, I've been in the practice of medicine for parts of two centuries now, and my experience has shown me . . .." Same doc; better sounding resume.

Or you're an auto mechanic. Even if you've only been on the job for, say, 18 months, you can announce "In the course of looking at engines over portions of two centuries, I can tell you with confidence that your car's problem is . . .."

You're a lawyer? You can start your trial summation: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, back in a previous century, when I first was privileged to practice law, I told myself that one day I would have the chance to represent a person like the one you see sitting at the table behind me -- that one day I would have the chance to seek justice for such a person . . .."

Schoolteacher? "In a different century, when Woodrow Wilson was in the White House and commercial air travel was still a distant dream -- a century, may I add, when I first began to teach students like you . . .."

We ought to all grab this while we can -- grab on to this little gift that has fallen into our hands. That guy who muttered some slurred cliche of a purported profundity at the bar last week? If you want, you can take whatever he said and drop it into your conversations this week as "the insights of a 20th Century thinker." Your discount-store trash can in your garage at home, the one you purchased last summer, can accurately be described as "an antique that has stood the test of time, an example of the old-world craftsmanship of another century."

Conversely, this gives all of us the chance to slam the door on certain things, too. That stupid mistake you made at the office a few months ago, that you were afraid might cost you your job? All in the haze-covered past now: "Something that happened last century -- I have trouble even remembering what it was about," you can say. Your salary? "Well, I suppose it's all right," you can say to your boss. "Measured against the paltry standards of a past century, that is."

We can accept this morning as the ultimate clean desk. You know those papers that have been piling up, the old memos you meant to go through and file in the proper folders, the letters you were supposed to answer? They may physically still be on that desk of yours -- but they're sort of like an early manuscript of "Gone With the Wind." They're part of a dead century -- they have nothing to do with the life that is awaiting you now.

The secret here is to use the days ahead in the ways that are best for you. And you can, in this case, have it both ways: When you're trying to establish what an experienced and full-of-knowledge person you are, that's the time to trot out the "I've been doing this work over the course of two centuries" line. But when you want to dismiss something -- to consign it to the scrapheap of memory -- that's when, with a literal or figurative flip of your hand, you can say: "You know, I have trouble even recalling that -- wasn't that back in the 20th Century?"

As for myself, I can without fear of contradiction say this morning:

This is my best column of the century.

Of course, it's also my worst.

How to leave you today? On this historic weekend, what wishes and good advice to give you?

I would simply urge you to follow the counsel of an eminent oracle from another time, a man who back in a previous century had the solemn wisdom to be able to sum up how a person should lead a happy and fulfilled life. Let us heed the words of that 20th Century philosopher:

Rave on.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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