10 September 2010

It's still precious

I know that time is short. There is not enough. There probably never could be enough.

It wasn't until the film by the same name came out that I'd heard of a "bucket list." And truthfully, it never occurred to me that I'd want to think out the things I sought to achieve before I died. I tend to be single-minded in my pursuits--if I get it into my head that I want to do something, I will generally find a way to--but those same pursuits are also on the random side. I read a book, part of a larger series, that contained a few pages of adventure in Iceland. It reminded me of a magazine article I'd read as a child about the creation of the island of Surtsey. I decided that I wanted to see Iceland. And since Greenland was nearby and another book I'd read had piqued my interest...

Because I am adept at learning languages, I decided to pick up another in college, and because I'd planned to go into the Foreign Service, I opted for what was considered a "hard" language. My first choice was Chinese, but it turned out that the Chinese professor left as my freshman year was starting, and ultimately, I ended up taking Russian. Going to Moscow and Leningrad presented itself as an opportunity. In the mid-1980s, they weren't exactly tourist hot spots, and probably not the first choice of many travelers, but I jumped at the chance to visit. I have never regretted taking that chance.

By the same token, working in the entertainment industry wasn't something I'd ever considered, nor was authoring and editing papers in the sciences. But those things added interest and value to my life as well as skills, and taught me a great deal: about an industry, about people, about the world.

Goals are good, and I have those, random and otherwise. I take my responsibilities seriously, and one of my primary goals in the recent past has been to raise self-sufficient, thoughtful and moral children. Who are, preferably, also fun. Talk about a lot of work, but has it ever paid off, for them particularly, but also for me (because they are fun).

Some of my goals are concrete, some amorphous. There are things I will do, and there are things I'd like to do, given the motivation, world enough, and of course, time.

So I have ideas about things I'd like to achieve, but I've learned it's also important to leave space for the unexpected, which can bring unexpected joy. Most of us have experience with unexpected sorrow, the loss that we could never imagine, but what about its opposite? Do you give time for that? Have you had a moment, completely unlooked for, that was overwhelming and beautiful and changed your perception of possiblity forever? The late night conversation that continues until morning, the crazy adventure in a fjord, the song that stabs you in the heart and spreads fire to your fingertips...

Much of my early life was nothing but work, a constant, just keeping my head above water. Oh, there was the surprise of a meteor shower, or a rare moment alone, a chance to dance with a boy I liked, maybe the discovery of a life-changing book. But far too often, I refused. "I don't have time," I'd respond regretfully. That only lasted until I realized that there are times when you make time, that everything has its own time.

Time is short. When I say this to others, they tend to misunderstand, thinking that I mean other things. But I am thinking of my time. It's unlikely that we'll know when the moment is to arrive, but amongst my friends and loved ones, I have seen enough illness, plenty of accidents and sufficient injury to know that when the moment comes, its irrevocable. So I look long but live like there may not be a next time. I suspect that even without the daily reminders of my own mortality, I would live this way anyway.

Recently, I was at the salon, and the woman who does my hair and I were talking about the silver decorating my skull, and I said that maybe I would just let it go. And MC was pretty horrified (she's young yet), and asked when? When did I think I would do this terrible thing?

"For my 50th birthday," I mused.

"But," she said, confused. "That's still quite a ways off..."

"Yes," I replied, "but we can start planning now."

At which point, she got the spirit of the thing and said, "You used to have a mohawk. I could give you a silver mohawk."

"And I could start a new blog," I cried gaily. "'Old Lady With a Mohawk'."

Time is short. Too short to be frustrated with the stupid little inanities of yesterday. Too short to be angry over what is inconsequential. What we have is now, and myriad little ways to ensure that each day is lived well. So every morning, I take the son to school, and we laugh over something stupid. This morning we were body checking each other back and forth across the street. Some days, I make a really good meal; other days it's enough to play with the cat's belly fur. Not too often, I take a little time away to reboot myself. I do a dance for the daughter most mornings as the spouse pulls out of the driveway to take her to school, waving my hands above my head, doing the cancan. I've no doubt the neighbors think I'm out of my mind. And it may be that I am. But if it happens that it's the last time the daughter sees me, she will always remember there was laughter.

I know that I am dying, and there is a relief in this certainty. It may be that I am dying no faster than the world around me, or perhaps I'll go sooner, but it is a sure thing. I feel neither fear nor sorrow at the knowledge, just the press of time. I've got work to do, goals to meet, goodness to embrace, love to give and receive, and I'm making the time.

Go listen to some good music: "Bravest Face" from the album Snakes & Arrows by Rush. Okay, let me be abundantly clear: this is not the "I'm shuffling off this mortal coil" post. I wouldn't tell you even if I knew. That would be macabre and depressing, for me, at least. The inspiration actually arises from two things: my half-brother's death in his 40s and September 11. I was still in my 30s when both those events took place, and what struck me both times was the relative youth of those who died. I've lived with various ills for so long, I've found that I am always incredibly grateful for the gift of another year. Oh sure, I could live without the aching joints and the grey hair and the *wrinkles* and what seems like a system-wide cascade failure, but I don't have a problem with the idea of a bigger number. It means I'm still being given time to do what I can and what I want. And for the record, this was a scary post to write. Hmm. Let me rephrase that. It was a scary post to publish.

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