Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Forth

Today I turn thirty-six.

That doesn't really mean anything, aside from a new driver's license and probably some gray hairs, but considering how the last few weeks have been going, it's as good a time as any for some serious reflection.

I've done a fair amount of introspecting in this blog, from childhood and parenting, my Divine purpose, my chemical nature, and even my personal drains. I don't consider any of these insights to be revelations of any type. In fact, I barely consider them more than shadows flickering about on my cave wall. I'm struggling to understand myself on a daily basis most of the time, and no amount of flowery prose will ever make it any easier. All I really hope for in my writing is a way to talk myself through a given situation. If I become better as a result, that's usually just a happy side effect.

This year might be different. Of course, it might not, just like any other year that didn't make a damn bit of difference (except the aforementioned gray hairs). But I've got something scary on the horizon. I suppose one benefit of the very crappy economy is that I'm rethinking much of how I've become accustomed to living, what I take for granted, and what might happen if any of the blessings I've been given were taken away.

I'm not just talking about my job. One year ago, I was still mourning the death of my father as my wife watched her mother fade away. Just in the last month, I've had to face a situation I never wanted to be in, where I was forced to decide between two terrible outcomes: one long and slow, the other harsh and immediate. As the year thaws and new prospects begin to bud, I anticipate finding myself in a worse-than-usual self-induced pity party with respect to all the areas of my life in which I've disappointed my much younger, hungry-for-life self.

Of course, I've not been that person in a very long time. And I must remember that when I was that person, I was also a person riddled with the wounds of dysfunction and codependance. I'm not finished battling those demons (maybe I never will be) but I'm healthy enough now to know what I want, and who I am, and who I want to be. I'm playing a different game now, with more chips on this side of the table and fewer on that, and now some key cards are in the hole never to recovered, but I'm much more prepared to win than I ever was when that nerdy, lanky kid looked out into the world and saw no boundaries. That poor child: he also saw no steps along the road or any mechanism for success. He fell off a cliff long before he noticed it was even there.

I'm not that kid anymore, for better or worse, but I still look out into the future and dream, knowing the journey from here is a bit more limited than it was from way back there, but there's still a long way I can travel. And inside, I know it's not about how many years I have left on this earth: it's about how much I'm willing to make it work. Looking around all my circles, I have found people accomplished at both ends of the success spectrum: those who have set and achieved major life goals in less time than I spent trying to pass Calculus II, and those who decided early in their lives what they weren't capable of, and stopped right between the good-enough living and the couch.

I wonder, if anyone looks at me in that light, where they see me. I look at myself and don't even know for sure. I have days when I'm solidly one or the other, for sure, but all my slacker days are well earned by hard labor, and all my superstar days are just that--days. I know I'm capable of going beyond a handful of fantastic 24 hour periods, and I know in the end I won't be satisfied with less than my best.

I used to think I underachieved because I fear failure. While it's a pretty big factor, the real reason is the opposite: I fear success. And conversely, failure is comfortable and easy. Not settling for failure means stepping into unfamiliar territory, putting your neck on the block, exausting yourself with no end in sight for rewards that are as yet untangible. I know that's not the whole story, but it's the part I tell myself right before I sit down with two hours left in a day and the mental list I carry around is put away until tomorrow. "Why put off...when you..." Oh, shut up.

And then one day, you wake up and you're 36, and you realize you've done that for a few too many days lately, a few thousand days in fact. Not that you haven't anything to show for it, the good things in life still come, and you're not a complete doof. There are three beautiful kids I get to squeeze when I come home each day, that pretty lady who has put up with me for so long and still likes to kiss me, the faithful yellow dog who sticks with me no matter how awful I become. There's the bathroom I tiled, the pantry I built, the piles of firewood I split and stacked with my own two hands, and the closet I adapted for my vertically-challenged 6-year old daughter. All these things are solid reminders that I am a good person, a decent man, and not a complete failure. All these people love me whether I make the grade at work or finish my degree. Sadly, these aren't the only things that matter, not if I want to live in a house, or drive a car, or feed my family, or be insured, or retire one day. That's just now how the world works.

I can do better. And what I realize more and more is that I owe it to more than just myself. And so today, March 4th, I open my eyes to what I need to do. I still feel like that lanky kid sometimes, staring off into the unknown, not knowing how to proceed, but I have gained some wisdom up to this point, and to let it go to waste would be to decide yet one more day can pass on the couch, in the comfort of my own failure. And I just can't let that happen. SCW

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