Pete Gavin

Sometimes, the end of a journey is nothing like what you imagined when you first began it. Pete Gavin has this Perspective.

Before the holidays my wife and I decided to give each other a DNA test so we could learn more about each other’s backgrounds. We spit into a tube, sealed it, sent it in and waited for the results.

A few weeks ago we received our results. Mine pretty much confirmed what I already knew about myself: mostly European Jewish, Swedish and Irish. That said, there were some exciting surprises; turns out I also have Middle Eastern, Western and Southern European and North African heritage. Cool.

I spent a little time on the website, studying the timeline of migrations from my regions to the United States. That was pretty disappointing, though, because it was mostly generic information rather than specifics. So I closed the link, thinking the whole thing was mostly a waste of money.

A few weeks later I decided to take another look to see if I had missed anything. I discovered a link titled ‘View All DNA Matches’ and saw a list of 40 to 50 people to whom I was probably related. There was one second cousin listed, a few more third cousins, and even more fourth cousins. I recognized a name under ‘Third Cousins’, someone my father had found through his research. “Hmm,” I thought, “there may be something to this.”

Then I scrolled down through the names of my likely fourth cousins. Near the bottom of the list was the name of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Right away, I knew it was him because he has a very unusual name. “Oh my God!” I thought. “Gustavo. He’s my fourth cousin!”

I immediately called Gus, and within a few minutes we figured out the most likely family connection. We were both stunned. All these years, and we never knew we were related. What are the odds?

I guess I did get my money’s worth after all. I can’t wait till the next time I see my old friend. My cousin.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired teacher of middle school English.

Many of us associate getting old with diminishing capacity, both physical and intellectual. Pete Gavin doesn’t see it that way.

An old friend and teacher of mine has an exhibit in Berkeley on what it means to be old, something many of us don’t think a lot about – at least not directly. Or…we think about it too much, though not in a welcoming way. Yet, there are many advantages to aging.

When interviewed on television and asked what his favorite word was, Anthony Hopkins said, “No. Because it took me a lifetime to learn to say it.”

As I age, I worry less about conforming to rules of decorum and etiquette. I have license to be true to my real self. Life is too short to do things I don’t want to do.

Another benefit of age is learning what’s really important. Things that once caused stress or anxiety sort of wash away because in the big picture, they don’t matter that much. Like my wife reminds me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”

As I start to shed my rigid self, I’m exposed to thoughts and experiences previously not possible. I am learning to be more open-minded, more accepting, and I see beauty in places I never did before. By letting go, I open up.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I think he meant younger folks take things for granted. As I age, I pause and notice beauty, humor, contentment, a warm soothing breeze, a stranger’s engaging smile, the freshness of a piece of fruit. It’s easier to laugh at myself when I do something silly or stupid because my ego is less controlling.

When I was a kid, lying awake at night imaging my future life, I always thought my 20s would be my favorite decade, but what I found was the opposite. Every decade was better than the one before. I’ve had a good life, but I wouldn’t want to relive it. I’m grateful for the memories, but I’m even more excited for what’s coming than what’s been.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired teacher of middle school English.

I was seven or eight when my father taught me to drive.  We had just bought eight acres on Navarro Ridge, by Mendocino, so many summers were spent on the land.  Turning off Highway 1 onto that lazy country road, I climbed over the bench seat and slipped into Dad's lap to steer our '52 Ford Woodie station wagon.  I even shifted gears, working the jerky three-on-the-tree lever as Dad managed the clutch.  

By 13, I could reach the pedals, so Dad gave me driving lessons in the vast Golden Gate Fields parking lot, the old woodie lurching forward and back like a mythic monster, coughing to an abrupt stop as I let out the clutch.  "Gentle," he said.  "You have to feel it engage."

My father is a great driver.  Whenever we were in the car, Dad never missed a chance to impart his wisdom as we rambled down some remote bumpy road.  He taught me to straighten-out curves, to downshift, rather than rely on the brakes, and to accelerate out of corners.  "Use the engine to control the vehicle," he said.  Dad stressed defensive driving – anticipating obstacles suddenly appearing: a deer streaking out from the brush, an obtuse driver lane-changing without looking, an oncoming car veering erratically into my lane.  "Don't be nervous," he said.  "But always pay attention. "

Now, when we visit my aging parents, driving that lonely and beautiful road to the home we built from our redwood forest, I think of those days learning to drive.  I hear Dad's voice as I cross the yellow line to straighten out the road, careful to provide my passengers with safe and smooth passage.  I look ahead, aware of what's coming my way, but I remain calm, my focus steady.  And I wonder how many more years I will travel these roads.

With a Perspective, I'm Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is an eighth-grade English teacher at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.