I sometimes see myself, from the outside in, and chuckle. Not too bad, old girl. Got your old lady glasses on, a nice meal, the newspaper at 40k. The weißwein flows through me and I begin to reminisce of all the events that have led me to this moment, lessons perhaps only half-understood at this juncture called a half-life, but so wondrous so as to make me cry tears of gratitude. I think for a moment what those lessons may be like at the end. And then my mind goes back to a moment in time.
Running down a dark street, my street, my mouth still stinging from the force, blood on my tongue from my teeth scraping my cheek, drunk with defiance, momentarily amazed by how fast the street lights passed me by - I wondered if I would trip and fall in the dark spaces between as the tears stung my face. As my tired legs were threatened by the thick moist Texas bayou air pulling me back down to Earth, I recall thinking that if I just dug in my toes and pushed with my quads a little bit harder, perhaps I could sprout Ithacus’s wings to fly me to a place where my feelings would matter, where no harm would befall me. My sixteen-year-old lungs and muscles fueled by anger, by darkness, rage, by the quiet desperation of living in a trap, and I remember the feeling – for the first time – of power, to run and escape it all, as if nobody could ever catch me. Nobody would. I in fact ran until I was 42, in at least 15 different countries, in forests, in marathons, in various halfs and other assorted lengths, until I lost toenails and the blisters peeled my feet open and I passed out from asking too much of my heart - my only consolation an ice bath, a tortuous reward. I ran until I was safe, when I realized that I had nothing to run from anymore, that I was a benevolent spirit, a good soul, who deserved nothing about what happened when I was fourteen. That I actually deserved this family of acquaintances created near and far, in my hometown and across continents, people whom with I could laugh, love, and relate, helping each other along in this life. That I could do anything, no matter what anyone thought or said. That I truly was limitless, not by force, but through humility. By the numbers, I wasn’t supposed to make it – whatever “make it” means. The divorced parents, the abuse. There’s a lesson in there.
I snap to a recent conversation with a special thirteen-year-old (the kind of young but old soul you knew in a previous life). When discussing my dorkiness of wanting to spend a day touring historic sites (and how she would never do that), I said, well, I am 32 years older than you. I think it took us both by surprise, me definitely more. Thirty-two years is such a long time, especially considering how this girl makes me feel decades younger - her fresh face, longing of heart, brave character, the intolerance for what she doesn’t yet know, and reliance on time. There’s so much time when you’re thirteen. The time to spend dissecting a three-line conversation with a boy and how I, God how I wish, for this simplicity without the turmoil. This lightness of heart, while ever aging in body and spirit, is a lesson onto itself. Why, at 45, is everything turning itself into a lesson? Why at 45 am I seeing things for the first time, much like a 5 year old?
And so here I am, again, old lady glasses assisting me to a record finish of the Times, chuckling to myself about how much I enjoyed all of it (except the sports section - that will never change). Realizing that truffles taste so nice in chicken stuffing, and that I should look up or create a recipe, and that, yes, the Heidoboden Weiss 2017 was indeed a stellar pairing. To know that tomorrow I will roll in, jet lagged, to meet people I know from all over the world united in a common cause. People who changed my life and, as I’ve been told, I have changed theirs. To walk amongst this world and its people ... to walk amongst this world with my lessons around my neck like a yoke of gilded roses. To walk among this life as a student, a newbie, an innocent, pinching myself, always of a questioning, curious expression - is this really me? Or will I wake up again at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket as a five-year-old asking my mother why we pay for groceries with green stamps?
Life is sort of like receiving a lovely card for your tenth birthday instead of a new fun toy, probably initially a disappointing prospect. But if we pay attention, and if we’re lucky and smart about it, life is only a set of lessons. There is nothing more, but it is in fact everything. It is the gift. Listening to the wind rustling through the breeze, bearing the scratch of a cat’s tongue on my hand, watching the happiness of a 9-year-old who dances across the parking lot to greet me - and whose image dances in my eyes; the ability to see another’s struggle, the golden horse-soul grazing on wispy green grass, the precious lessons from a 13 year old, the dinner with an old familiar friend, the touch of a loved one saying goodbye and the lingering clutch of him as if there will never be another time, feeling his heart beat - well, I can’t think that life could hold much more than that. I think, at the end, these are the scenes that, like Charon, will escort my heart to its next place.
Here’s to another half-life. Here’s to perpetual grace and humility, to waking up each day knowing absolutely nothing.