At 3:30 am, I woke up in a small panic with thoughts of the future.
I realized long ago how temporary I am, how finite, that my life can be visualized as simply as a piece of string hung between two walls, starting at one and ending at the other. There is no extending that string past its length. It could be two inches or one hundred and two inches, with each inch representing a year. And once the second wall is hit, that’s it, that’s all there is.
I imagined an accurate fortune teller somewhere, maybe an entire field of fortune tellers. Rather than fortune telling being some mystical, supernatural thing with crystal balls and incense, maybe it could be an entire field of industry, a college major, where women and men learn the craft of taking people through the long paths ahead. If fortune telling was available, if we could see forward to the events ahead without the ability to change them, would we do so? Of course we would.
I can picture my mother at the age of eight sitting down and asking about her future. Now, at eight, she likely would be wanting to know a very few things, about whether the boy in her class that she had a crush on liked her back, and if she would grow up to be happy with a husband and children. But the fortune teller for her would give the same messages that would be given to anyone seeking such answers.
For true fortunes would be a mix of dreadful and wonderful things.
Fortunes would talk about setbacks and successes, deep heartaches and physical ailments, the losses of loved ones, career breakthroughs, crippling debts, epic vacations, and the glimpses of happiness and joy along the way, feelings that last seconds to minutes to perhaps days.
I think fortune tellers would tell us what every wise older person has always told us. To find happiness in the little moments, to live every day like it is our last, to follow our dreams, to reach for the stars, to sing and smile and laugh and rejoice in our humanity, for humanity is fleeting and the end comes far too quickly.
At the age of 37, I sit comfortably in what I hope is the first of my middle years with several decades ahead yet. I sit in this space, typing on a laptop at the desk near my bed, a cup of coffee on one side and a glass of water on the other. The room is dark except for the light of my computer screen, and I have an ache in my back, and I’m a strange mix of inspired and lonely. I look at the day ahead with sadness and joy, anticipating play time with my children and time to research and time at my office helping others and an evening ahead watching an old film with friends; the joy comes in the life I have created for myself one that is happy and abiding, and the sadness comes because of this blog, this recognition in the fragility of human life, the utter temporariness of it all.
A few years ago, here in Salt Lake City, I had a strong group of core friends. We saw each other often, spent time together, laughed and danced and dreamed and talked and traveled. And all of that feels so different now, just an inch down the string. Kurt died so abruptly, and among the others there are new relationships, new breakups, relocations across the country, double and triple jobs to pay the bills, crippling depressions, and newly purchased homes, and that joint space we occupied together is something that was rather than something that is.
And my sons, my amazing sons, they are expanding and shooting upward at breakneck speed. One is studying fractions in his second grade class and is learning how social hierarchies in school settings work while the other is learning how to write stories in kindergarten while struggling to learn how to manage disappointment when things don’t go just right. They dress themselves now, and they have strong opinions, and they are learning that doughnuts and marshmallows taste better than other things but aren’t ultimately healthy, and the larger lesson that pleasure is more easily obtained than sustainable results. They are hilarious and endearing and wonderful, and exhausting and expensive, and every other thing. They are my greatest joys. And they too have these futures ahead, full of the unknown, and that thrills me and frightens me with joy and dread and anticipation.
I just took a minute to take my fingers off the keys. I placed my head in my hands with my elbows on the desk, and I closed my eyes for a moment. My thoughts quieted and I breathed in, smelling coffee, hearing a car alarm go off outside, feeling the small chill in the fall air in my room. I realized my toes were cold. And I yawned, gloriously. And then I looked back up at this screen and realized I captured this moment, this morning, in this space, and I grinned widely because I won’t ever have this experience again. It has passed now, like all the others. In moments, I will click ‘publish’ on a blog that can then be read by others, and I will climb back in bed to read and doze until it is time to get up and exercise and shower and go to work.
And this complicated present tense of mine, with all these exhaustive and incredible complexities, they repeat themselves in variations each moment of my day, and that is tremendous, this capacity I, that we, have to be all of that throughout our entire timeline.
And that, I realize, is our true fortunes. Were I to visit the fortune teller, I wouldn’t want to hear a list of successes and failures. I would want to hear that I am miraculous and complicated and I will live every moment full of all of that, and that life is lived in those moments, and that the present one is always the one that we do, and must, live in.