“Lonesome Dove” is one of the rare stories that played well both in its original novel form and in film, in this case, a TV series. The success of the latter was due in large part to the brilliant acting by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. They perfectly captured and portrayed the essential character of the protagonists, complementing and contrasting the other in the way author Larry McMurtry created them. Both men were noble, pure in spirit and serious about life, facing it head-on but with totally opposite natures. Augustus McCrae (Duvall) celebrated life and would not allow challenges, disappointments, and even tragedy to de-sway him from his live-life-to-the-fullest attitude. Woodrow Call (Jones), on the other hand, was deadly serious, task-directed and taciturn to a fault. A smile would have cracked if not shattered his visage.
Beyond the scope of that adventure, set in the Old West that is now fodder for lore and legend, the two primary characters serve as models — archetypes — for men to this day. For my part, men like Woodrow drive me nuts with their rigidly uptight focus on moral strictures and life’s practical side. Guys like Augustus — Gus — are far more appealing to hang with due to their elan, their spirit of life. Their philosophy is that life is not only to be lived but to be enjoyed and celebrated.
I have aspired and tried to live my life the Gus way, albeit with serious lapses. Looking back on the periods during which I dawdled, even struggled, I realize I wasted a lot of time. That’s not to say time spent feeling down, blue, or melancholy isn’t justified or needed. But opting to stay in such times for prolonged stretches not only drains the spirit, it also wastes the most important human resources: Time and Attention. With the grains of sand in my hourglass of life now dwindled to a precious few, I’ve decided I’ve no time to waste. My intention hereon is to push pell-mell into Augustus territory. If my fate is to look down at my toes at my last breath, I hope that I have the strength of character to echo Gus’s last sentiment with a smile: “It’s been a hell of a party.”
But what did Gus mean by that? Was his life filled with partying or was his life a party? Of course, it’s the latter, which forces us to reconsider and eschew our general definition of party. For Gus, a party wasn’t a short-term, narrowly focused occasion for frivolity and celebration. Instead, it was living a life that held that every moment was one to celebrate. In “Lonesome Dove,”there were plenty of sad, sober, even tragic scenes that were hardly celebratory. But sadness and tragedy are part of life. Still, that reality doesn’t—shouldn’t—negate the idea that life ought to be celebrated. That includes times when that extra heaping of doo-doo is piled upon your plate, so much so that it topples over.
When that happens, it ought to simply tell you that you have quite a mess to clean up. Of course, that’s easier said than done. There’s no “Mucking through the Dung for Dummies”guidebook to reference nor a magic wand to make the tough times go better. Rather, we need to find or devise ways to help ourselves through the muddle. For me, that includes hiking, skiing, gardening, reading, writing, and getting with friends.
When reading about or listening to another’s personal tale, I am far more interested in the stories within a person’s story along with their whys and wherefores rather than a this-and-that litany of their deeds.
Imagine Woodrow and Augustus writing their memoirs. In all likelihood, Woodrow’s would read like a laundry list of things he did and accomplished, places he went to, and names of important people he met along the way. Augustus’s tale would be much different in style and content: It would be an engaging if not gripping tale of exploits and interesting characters who were his companions during those adventures. Think about which tale would put you to sleep and which keep your rapt attention. Then consider how you’d like your life story be told when you’re six feet under or ashes to the wind.
Jerry Fabyanic is the author of “Sisyphus Wins” and “Food for Thought: Essays on Mind and Spirit.” He lives in Georgetown.