Monday, November 29, 2010

Not How It's Always Going to Be

One night, wanting to be led around the two-stepping floor at Gruene Hall, tearful and full of Shiner Bock, I shouted at [my husband] 'Is this how it's always going to be?'  We laugh about it now...If we've learned one thing, it's that no moment, good or bad, is how it's always going to be."
--Jenny Browne, We Might as Well Dance

One of my greatest flaws is my tendency to assume that things will continue exactly as they are. Four-plus decades of experience and wise friends have tried to teach me otherwise--as one said, "That's ridiculous. It's like thinking, 'I've been alive for so long.  How can I be dead?'"

But in my irrationally dark moments, I look at my current circumstances and see the end of my life, the years collapsing upon themselves. I'm sitting at a rail crossing watching an endless train of days taken up by the particular tedium that seems to be, of its own will, wasting my precious time on earth.  I've felt, my entire life, a hand pushing my back, propelling me forward.  It has led to some career success and a relatively orderly home environment.  My affairs are, for the most part, in order, but by preoccupying myself with such things I end up with the days speeding by in exactly the manner I dread. 

This week I got to spend several days with my parents, and among the news items they related from home were included those about people from the tiny town we lived in during my middle and high school years.  These souls, my contempories, have grown middle-aged, their parents old, over the thirty years since I left.  They've stayed put.  Why, I wonder, would someone stand still for all those years?  My immediate reaction is that they've frittered away their lives mindlessly doing what they've always done. 

The hand pushing me forward is in cahoots with the Protestant Work Ethic, which says: There's a big world out there. What's next.  This, you may note, is not a question.  My mind and temperment almost automatically drive me towards the next logical step, the to-do list item to cross off.  PWE wants to know, Have you saved for retirement?  Where do you want to be in five years?

I have a friend who works as a teacher for a small private school.  She is, like me, a single parent of two children, and she makes a good life on a lot less money than I make, with only spotty financial assistance from her co-parent. A few weeks ago we were sitting in my kitchen and I confessed that I lose a good deal of sleep regarding the issues my PWE so persistently raises.  I asked how she managed to do it.  "You know," she mused, "it will all work out. I just have faith and try to get through each day. Worrying about it doesn't help."  

Yesterday, Dad and I got up and started working in my yard.  The leaves, though they'd been cleaned out three weeks ago, were starting to get deep again, he couldn't stand it any longer.  He pushed me to keep going when I was ready to quit. (The Inner Hedonist wanted to have a beer on the deck.)  While we were working, my teacher friend came by on her daily walk.  "Oh," she said, "I just like the crunch of the leaves under my feet.  Raking them would take that away."  I envied her, but am old enough to know that, although circumstances change all the time, people rarely do.  My invisible hand isn't going to stop it's persistent press forward. 

In Jenny Browne's recent essay, she talks about attending a wedding with her husband, ten years after their own.  In the interim, they have both lost people dear to them; she, her father.  Like me, she adored her dad, despite the fact that he could be a pain in the ass.  (Slave-driving yard thug, I think I muttered to mine, though it was warm and sunny. Though eventually we did have that beer.) Browne doesn't express regret for things not done, but acknowledges that it took the shock of losing her parent to see that ever-changing stream that is life, rushing by. 

Luckily, I inherited my IH from my Dad, too, so when he and my mom wanted to go to dinner, I elected to go for a fine meal.  Not a pretentious one, but a superbly prepared one at a local spot called Ellerbe's Fine Foods, recently honored as one of Ten Best New Restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine.  We ate well and split a proper bottle of French wine.  It was marvelous, we all three agreed, though my mom said she was glad we hadn't taken the kids or it would have cost another hundred dollars.  Okay, so it's unpretentious, but it's not Taco Bell.  But then again, it won't always be like this. 


  1. Fantastically written, it helped me realize that when faced with a great opportunity, I should go for it. Sometimes you just need to live a little and enjoy the small pleasures of life when things are tough.

  2. Lisa, thanks for your comment. Eating dessert first is really a good policy in general.