I don’t think we have to choose between living in the present or in the past. We create the future with each step we take, and even if we don’t want time to move forward or things to change, we are forced or invited to each evolving second. When I was seventeen years old, I found myself confronted with my own nihilistic worldview in my Philosophy 101 class at the local community college. We were talking about time and hoping for things to get better, and I was spoked up and articulated my deepest fears: that we’re really just always waiting for something better. Always looking for the next thing to save or improve us. And discontent in each situation. And my very cheery, impossibly optimistic philosophy professor (an unexpected combo) exclaimed “That’s just depressing!” I realized I wasn’t just talking in the abstract, my seventeen-year-old self was already realizing this world isn’t enough. Sometimes when I get caught trapped in the thinking “Well, if I only did this, or if this job, or this person, in the future…” I hear my professor’s almost cartoon exclamation: “That’s just DEPRESSING!”
and I tell myself to chill out. Isn’t that what summer is supposed to be about? “Chilling out.” Vacations, relaxation, and sipping cold lemonades. And our thirsty souls drink it al up. Ahem, my thirsty soul drinks it up.
Cause I want to be forever
Like smoke in the air
Float like a feather going nowhere
Lost in the silence
I don’t need to be free
Kill me with kindness
Tell me beautiful lies
– Beautiful Lies, Birdy.
These lyrics, I believe, are really written about summer. Summer is just a bunch of beautiful lies. Float like a feather going nowhere? If that doesn’t epitomize summer, I don’t know what does. It must be the former teacher in me, but when fall rolls around I get the overwhelming sense that things need to prepped and fixed and clothes need to be bought. Crockpot recipes must be pinned. Cold, hard reality sets in. Pumpkin spice is the only cure. Don’t tell me that the pumpkin spice faze is soooo over. I refuse to accept this.
At work, I’m anticipating the arrival of apple ginger spice cake, white chocolate pear bars, and pumpkin muffins. My first child will be named Pumpkin Muffin. They will be adorable and no one will accept that Pumpkin Muffin is their real name and it will psychologically damage them forever. Just have to get Jesse to agree. Kidding, aside, I feel healthier and more soul-happy than I ever thought possible a year ago. Life still has it’s up and downs but the pace has changed. A vast majority of fall and winter last year was sucked up by a low-level sadness that was my constant companion. I couldn’t shake it off by myself. I couldn’t outpace it. Grief can be a real a monster, and it can be a breath of fresh air. It’s power and forcefulness in your life is a reflection of the depth of love you had for the person who is gone. And that’s where the breath of fresh air comes, you breathe deeply in the memories and realize that so much of us matters. Death is so painful because life is so abundant. I’m nowhere near being “done” with this process, I just have some more words to articulate it. Please, please, please, please don’t ask people who have recently lost someone to explain what they’ve “learned” in this situation. They’ve learned they really loved someone and they’re gone. That’s enough to try to unpack for a lifetime.
We all want the pretty story, the final chapter, the sequel that answers all of the questions. We want the triumph and the glory. The gold medal ceremony. But when we rush the story, or scrap the struggle, we cheapen our stories. We limit our opportunities. We accept beautiful lies, in the name of a better story. One thing I have found very freeing about not being in school anymore is no longer having grades attached to all or most of my work. Sure, it’s harder to figure out if you’re passing or failing, but no longer are values attached to each move you make. It was easier, somehow, because even if you spilled your coffee, got a parking ticket, and ate chips and salsa for dinner you still got a passing grade on that paper, your life is alright. I don’t want to settle for for a life of tidy “lessons” and assigning grades to myself and the people around me. That’s not enough. That life may sound tidier, but it’s one that I won’t settle for.