Today, I think of Death as the figure of the Grim Reaper
lounging by a public pool, a lifeguard. Watching, waiting for the people to
tire, and when they do, reaching in his scythe, and hoisting them out of the
Over the last week, I spent my time with several people I adore who are all in their 30s and 40s and in phases of change in their lives. I
got to witness how they’re handling, adjusting, chafing, and, sometimes, enjoying their lives. And if
I’m honest, I got to witness a good deal of loneliness. (“If you spot it, you got it,” the saying goes.)
Because this isn’t only my story, I will be courteous to allow others their story and their privacy, but it inspired in me a great deal of reflection
over the week about my own life, my own story.
Early in the week, I heard a woman, a stranger, say, “At some
point, we have to give up all hope of our past being different.” There’s a lot
of standing in two worlds–past & present, present & future–that I got to witness this week, and see reflected in
myself. I had a line from Fiona Apple repeating to me on the plane home yesterday:
The child is gone.
I got to see that there is a pivot point in life; that adulthood is more than an age, or bank account, or relationship. It’s a
marrow-deep understanding that the time that was is over. We’re no longer looking toward the top of the mountain and how to get there: it’s now a horizon we are looking toward. There is a plateau in the middle of the ‘natural’
course of life between the climax of our lives to come (if we
get to it), and its decline.
Maybe it was all the True Detective we watched this week!
I don’t mean to be grim, I just mean to be realistic
with where I am standing in my own life. I simply saw the story arc. I heard
the restlessness, the ambition toward something not yet attained, and I
believed for the first time, despite all cancer-awareness and mortality-facing,
that the long life we have is shorter than I’ve known, that the center of that life is closer than I’ve known.
Mostly, I thought about my own ambition toward family and
career. Toward relationship and being “settled” and the timing of all that.
I’ve written before that being in a metropolitan area, I feel less inclined to
think “TICK TOCK” than some of my suburban friends. But, on the heels
of the new job proposal I handed into my work last week for myself, and the
idea that if I spend 7 or 8 years in that job, I’ll be 40, and then be poised
for a more senior management position. Seeing my professional future suddenly chopped up into finite chunks, seeing that I actually do want that kind of trajectory, having the ladder open up to me suddenly, and fucking taking a step onto it
– well… everything else seems to now be broken up into those same finite chunks.
I’ve never had a “five year plan” or a “ten year plan.” I’ve
never known enough about what I want to do to have any path whatsoever seem
like it makes sense to pursue in any certain direction.
There may be “many roads to the mountaintop” and “All roads
lead to Rome,” but I’ve been so stilted in knowing where the fuck Rome is, that
I’ve sat at the base of the mountain, stared at the nailed signpost with its
array of choices, and drawn figures in the dirt with a stick, waiting for one
of them to illuminate or something.
Well, honestly, one of them has, career-wise, and I see the
opening, and I feel myself– well, no, I actually did take a step in that direction at work. And in seeing
that there is suddenly a path that I’m actually on and actually taking, I see
that there are all these other 5 and 10 year plans that I kind of have to be aware of now… and I see what implication that has for life. For
romance, for family, for place.
I see that I’ve sat at that intersection for much too long,
or, simply for as long as I needed to, but now I feel like I have to race to
catch up to the toll of the clock.
I feel like the sense of timelessness in life has
disappeared. That, “eventually” and “some day” are not allowed anymore. And not
really that they’re “not allowed” or “not permitted,” but that there’s just no
room for them. The dreaming must be directionalized now.
This terrifies and goads me. I feel pushed in a way I haven’t.
I feel more certain of what I want in my life, and a bit of a manic thrall
toward doing it. – Sure, All things in time, and All things in balance, but: I have
begun to think that this might be what ambition is; and what it is for.