How does one describe the importance of inconsequence? How are moments of no regard piling on each other in a seemingly haphazard arrangement, threatening to topple my carefully constructed life?
Steve Jobs said,
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Today was a ‘No’ day. Yesterday was a ‘No’ day. Last week was filled with ‘No’ days. On school days, as much as I deeply love my students and admire and respect my coworkers, I would rather be hiking in the woods. As much as I love my family and want to feed them and let them know they are loved, deep inside I also want to be sitting on a beach watching a sunrise with an old friend. Instead of sitting in silence at my dining room table listening to my husband chew and swallow, I would rather be at a Mexican cantina, smelling charred chiles and having my consciousness altered by really good mescal. The life of nurturing professional and dutiful wife are being threatened by the urge to live the remaining years I have with utter passion and abandonment.
I’m quite sure that the people that know me as a stable and steady woman and upstanding member of society would say it’s just my approaching 50th birthday that is prompting this feeling. I have been focusing on the small moments which foment gratitude (like the honor of watching an eagle devour a pheasant this morning), but this now seems inadequate.
While I agree that my upcoming birthday may be the surface catalyst for any future living I do, I think the following realizations, my ‘inconsequential moments’, matter more.
- My daughter told me this past weekend that she never wants to come home again. Our little town holds no appeal for her anymore. Her old friends, with a few exceptions, are stagnating. There is nothing to ‘do’ within 30 miles of here. No cars pass by our house, and it’s just too quiet. She has moved to Boston, thriving on the history and the action and the funkiness and the LIFE. While the parents among you may say that this isn’t inconsequential, to me it was just a verbal confirmation of what I knew her feelings to be years ago. Her ability to say the words out loud made it apparent that her psyche is ready to move forward to create the life she wants. This makes me profoundly happy, because her life as a contented adult is the fulfillment of my role as a mother.
- My daughter also told me she is afraid. Afraid of the great, yawning hole that is her future. She is filled with all the questions and insecurities I had when I was her age. “How do I take the first step? Where do I go to get a job? How do I choose an apartment that I like and can afford? What should I do with the rest of my life?” These are the same questions I asked myself at her age. I felt the insecurity, the ‘what if I die and nobody notices’ insecurity. My role as a parent has subtly switched from that of provider to that of nurturer. This brings with it a freedom to re-examine my own relationship with my daily life, as my life now parallels hers.
- For many, many years, I thought that one of my Life lessons was how to deal with abandonment. My sister, with whom I shared a bedroom until the age of 13, died after a quick illness in 1974, and I was alone. My parents moved as far away as they could (from NY to Hawai’i) as soon as I graduated from college, and I was alone. The men who I thought would be my passionate life partners fell by the wayside one by one, and I was alone. My best girlfriend accused me (erroneously) of being mean to her children and dropped me like a hot potato. Again, I was alone. My husband chose, after 2 years of marriage, to sleep in the guest room until forever, and I was alone. On the eve of our 25th anniversary, while driving home from the grocery store, it occurred to me (my moment) that the Life lesson is not one of abandonment, but one of attachment. All the people, and jobs, and animals to whom I have become attached have, one by one, left my life and they have moved on. The Buddhist maxim ‘Attachment is the source of suffering’, makes sense to me now. I have determined that living life in the moment, with no expectations for the future, just an appreciation of the present, is the only way to live.
- I have reconnected with an old grade school friend on Facebook. His name is Mark, and knowing him as an adult, with his incredible life story, has made me aware of my own story and how much richer it can be. We grew up together in a little town in NY, and his family moved away after the 8th grade. Since then, my Life has taken me around the world. I have smelled, tasted, heard, seen, felt, loved, and embraced what the world has to offer, at least, what my limited encounter with the world has shown me. My experience pales in comparison to his.
Mark spent 12 years in the Army Special Operations (including the 82nd Airborne), 20 years as a police officer, and is currently a paramedic/firefighter. He has jumped out of planes, been ushered across international boundaries for his own safety in the dead of night. He was tortured in foreign prisons, has been burned, shot, stabbed, run over, had fingers chopped off, and STILL takes utter delight in sunrises. STILL loves a good scotch. STILL lives passionately. STILL loves to sing. STILL has a bucket list that includes a trip to Antarctica. Next month, he is going back to school to learn the ins and outs of marine firefighting.
Mark has allowed me to realize that life is HUGE. Life is about passion, about reaching out beyond the safe and normal. Life is about embracing it all, feeling it all, loving it all, tasting it all. Life is intense. My small, safe life in rural New York has to change if the next 30 years of my life are to matter to me.
For those who were hoping, I will NOT be running for town office. I will NOT be joining the school board or the Band Boosters. I will, however, be walking barefoot at 2 am on beaches. I WILL be learning belly dancing with beautiful women in the Middle East. I WILL be running a marathon and making love and exploring China and wearing a sari in India and going down in a shark cage and all the other things that I can possibly do.
In the movie of my life, at my funeral, someone will say, “I TOLD her she couldn’t outrun a cheetah!” Then they will raise a glass of ancient scotch and toast my existence.
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