"Back to the Simple Things" with Don Williams can teach us about life

by Jordan Green

One of my favorite songs is a tune by the late, great Don Williams called “Back to the Simple Things.” It’s one I que up after I’ve had long, busy days at work. Not necessarily bad days, but busy ones where the computer screen seems inescapable.

The slowly sung words of the song come pouring through my truck’s speakers like water down a pool slide on a sunny summer afternoon. In the song, Williams reflects on how we all too often get caught up in the metaphorical “rat race” of life. All day long, we stay preoccupied with our jobs, speeding from one task to the next. We hurriedly scroll through social media throughout the day, scarf down our meals and race home to hit the hay, only to repeat the same steps the next day.

“I’ve been trying to figure out/how to dial it back and slow it down/can’t be as complicated as it seems,” he sings.

“The heart of me loves yesterday/so pardon me now while I make/ my way back to the simple things.”

I remember when everything was simple. That was in Kindergarten, when school lasted half a day. Mom would bring me home to swim in the pool, play with the dogs and watch “Thomas the Tank Engine” on PBS.

That was in elementary school, when I would meet my friends on the playground, solve a single-step math problem upon my return to class and finish the school day off by watching a video. Then it was back to the house, where Mom and Dad would soon join Sister and I for dinner and a peaceful night of watching TV or going to the farm.

Then came high school, when classes and work seemed like they were starting to become difficult. But looking back, they really weren’t. I still had fairly easy classes, lived at home, saw my friends and, by this point, had the freedom to drive about anywhere and do anything. I just didn’t have all the responsibility that I have now.

And now, I’m in college. I work a couple of different jobs, take higher-level classes and try to maintain a social life – and plan where I want to go with the rest of my life.

College can be stressful, of course, but it’s also fun. I haven’t lost sight of that. The craziest part about all of this is that, someday, I’ll look back on my time in college and say: Man, times sure were easy. Don’t get me wrong: I love my job, and I’m excited for the future.

Most days, the job doesn’t feel like work. Some days it does. But most of the time, it’s enjoyable and rewarding. I’m fortunate; I know a multitude of people who can’t say the same. At the same time, adulthood is drawing nigh.

Soon, my friends and I will be having the conversations our parents have: talks about finances, career plans and healthcare.

That seems daunting. Granted, I’ve long had a tendency to overthink. To worry myself silly about factors I can’t control in life. To fear what may come in the future. I’ve got to work on this.

But I can’t ignore reality, either. Luckily, I have a tool to help manage it: Reflection. Amid the struggles of life, thinking back on the past can be a relief from the stress of the present. I smile when I recall spending moments with my family as a child: having them grab me by the arms and twirl me around in the parking lot of the superstore, all of us giggling. Sitting on Dad’s lap and holding the steering wheel as we drive back from the farm.

Hearing Mom say “Good morning” and seeing her beautiful smile every day before school started – and having her there to pick me up when the bell rang at 3:35. We can’t live in the past, but we can reflect on it in a healthy way.

When we’re stressed out about whatever lies before us, thinking about the good ole days might just give us the strength to go on. Let’s think back to the simple things.