I have a friend who loves to ask compelling questions. She is a prober and I really appreciate that about her. Many people don’t bother to inquire about others. They simply move on through their lives and don’t pay that much attention to what is going on with the others around them. But not this friend. She’s always asking questions. Recently, on one of the first cool nights of fall, we were sitting out on her deck sharing a few bottles of wine, laughing and enjoying the evening together. Towards the end of the evening, she leaned in close and said “If you had 2 years to live, what would you do?”
I laughed at the question but, it was more like a nervous laugh than a genuine guffaw, because I did not have an answer for her. It was not complex but it surely forced me to take a deep personal inventory and check whether I was on the path to pursue what makes me happy and fulfilled.
I gave her some bullshit answer and, knowing it was bullshit, she probed deeper.
“What if you had a month? Two weeks? How about 48 hours?”
My back was now against the wall and I knew she was not about to let up. She was going to force me to dig down into my inner self and I was not going to find a secret door to escape through or be able to pull myself from her clutch. This spider had me in her web and I had only one pathway out – give her an honest answer.
“I would write and write and write,” I finally said, after taking what felt like hours of thoughtful contemplation. In truth, I had wanted to say that originally but I felt guilty because I thought it undermined my current work. I thought it suggested that I was not singularly focused and passionate about the enormous endeavor I am currently undertaking. I wrestled with admitting that there is something that I am, possibly, even more passionate about. I quickly qualified my answer to indicate that but could not help but think: How could I possibly be effective when my true calling might be something completely different? I realized rather quickly what my astute friend was up to. She was not trying to refocus me or divert my attention away from my current work but, instead, she wanted me to take a true personal inventory. She wanted me to find my core. I love her for it because I have not stopped thinking about that conversation since that night.
I hate to admit but, some days, my life is riddled with regret. There are so many things I could have done better. Being an over thinker, I reflect on everything and wonder where the road might have taken me if I had simply taken some different turns. And, at the same time, I am a fatalist. I believe that there is an intended road IF we can find it. Not all of us have the good fortune to stumble across the path we are meant to take and, part of the journey is really about finding your way there. Sometimes it takes a little longer (sometimes even a LOT longer) but if we are able to find our way, we can get there. Lately, as my middle-agedness comes into clearer focus for me, I recognize that there are certain pathways that are closed off to me. There are avenues that I will never be able to pursue. Many of my options lie behind me rather than in front of me. This is a bitter pill and it is hard to take that in. As someone who believes that I have many skills and talents and the ability to wear many hats, I struggle with seeing options removed from my life menu. And, I suppose that is part of the aging process.
I am confronted with this reality for myself more and more frequently. Not just because my body does not cooperate like it used to (waiting up for my son to get home from a Bat Mitzvah until 12:30am on Saturday night left me wiped out on Sunday which is new). It is not about the physical changes that are occurring. It is about how I am regarded. I have been “Ma’am” for a while now but now I seem to command an even more matronly respect. I know I am perceived differently but I cannot easily identify what exactly that is. I have heard so many people in their 60s and 70s talk about how they were still a teenager in their minds and I never understood what that meant. Yet, the other night, as I waited up for my son, I related to him more as the kid going to their first fancy party rather than the parent worried about their child staying out too late. That will come but I am still straddling the fence. I am still grappling with the reality that I have a child old enough to be going to these parties. My friends and I all gasp as we see our rapidly growing children, seemingly maturing and shooting up overnight. Suddenly, they are mature faces with bone structure, long legs, breasts, muscles. They are becoming fully formed adults with still immature brains. It is both magical and unsettling to watch the transformation. And, even more difficult when I am still getting adjusted to the fact that I, too, am getting older except that all my transformation is happening behind closed doors. No one will really overtly observe these changes except for the outward subtleties like more wrinkles and the appearance of grey hairs.
But, back to my 48 hours.
I have the luxury of, hopefully, having more than just a few days to live but I support the idea of living as if your days were numbered. Living with a purpose and intention. Recently, in my coaching group, I asked the women what they really, really wanted. I wanted them to think beyond a new deck on their house, a luxurious vacation or losing 20 pounds. I wanted them to think about purpose. I asked them to focus on an epic story for themselves. Something so major and significant that it would be herculean to even think about it. Something that seemed so out of reach but encompassed much about their day-to-day existence. I pushed them to go higher, go deeper, go farther. Think BIG! We came up with some great stories, some significant goals that we recognized might or might not ever be achieved. These were roads that we might travel without ever reaching our final destination but everything we would do in our lives would be an attempt to lead us to these epics.
One of the women in my group, taking a page out of my friend’s book, asked me what my epic was and, once again, I was silenced. I stood before these women – a group who entrusted me with their deepest secrets, pain, struggles and joys – and stumbled. I was tripping down a flight of stairs and there was no handrail to grab on to in order to pull myself up. I stammered and strung some words together about helping people but I had no answer. No clear epic. And, I confessed. I simply had not figured this out for myself yet. I was completely adept at helping this group and others find their way to their own story. I am a masterful tour guide. I am a great pilot on a commercial flight but, when flying solo, I often lose my radar.
Yet another moment that has sat with me and sits at the forefront of my mind.
So, if my 48 hours are filled with writing, I suppose my epic falls into that space somewhere too. I need to tell my story. I need to let others know that living the imperfect life is ok. I want to scream from the rooftops that what appears like a tortured existence can be beautiful. There are treasured moments and deep reflection and passion and joy and all of this sits on a gigantic pile of pain. You can use your pain as a tool and I try to. I try to learn and move forward. I see others who are crippled by their struggles and I want to magically lift them up, make them weightless and allow them to float 500 feet above the ground to watch how we are all flawed. I want them to soar through the clouds and feel the exuberance of moving beyond pain. I want to make a difference.
My life sometimes feels like a mistake. It feels like a series of bad events, poor choices, bumps, missed opportunities, unnecessary detours and general misfortune. When I am down – really down – that is the record that plays in my head. Yet, when I am clear and have some perspective, I can look at all those seemingly “bad” aspects of my life and flip them over to see what came from them. I hate the expression but it is remarkably true – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’m still alive so I must be pretty damn strong by now.
I can look at all my pain and all my struggles and look at what and who they brought me. My husband felt like a rescuer, saving me from myself and my family. My relationship with my best friend was born out of pain and struggles we were both experiencing and worked together to move past. Many of my friendships are rooted in shared difficulties that allow us to have deeper appreciations for one another. The opportunities in my life have often come my way because I was forced to take action and needed to find new paths. I moved into lanes that would never have ordinarily presented themselves if I lived a more traditional or an easier life.
And, my writing. It is my gift. It is the treasure chest that was lying just out of my reach for so long. I longed for it. I dreamt about it. And, when I was finally ready for it, the stories fell out of me. The words tumbled from my fingers to the page and freed me from my self-imposed prison. My writing is my voice, yelling loud and carrying my words above rooftops, beyond mountain tops, across oceans. It allows me to cleanse. It is precious. It is delicate. It is strong. It is my most prized possession. It is my greatest asset. No amount of money in the bank, no mansion, no fast car, no diamonds or rubies or designer bags will ever trump the value of my words.
So, if I only have 48 hours left, as Asimov indicated, I really need to type just a bit faster.