Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Now or Never


I saw a dead man once. He was sprawled on the courthouse steps, head at the bottom, feet at the top, legs bent at unnaturally odd angles. People gathered around to take in the scene, to try to absorb what exactly was happening here. What exactly was happening was that the guy had been hit by a car and thrown up onto the steps. What was happening was that he was dead. The lights. The sirens. The emergency crews. It was all a bit surreal, surreal but under control in the way that only an event such as this could be. So why were the onlookers not going back to their business at hand? There was nothing they could possibly do. There was no difference that they could make. My dad looked at us girls and said simply, “I hope you never have to see something like this again.”

Maybe, I thought. But I’m glad I saw it once.

That sounds morbid, I know, but it really isn’t. Seeing death is life affirming. Regardless what you believe about the afterlife or the kingdom of God or karma or past or future lives or whatever, life on this Earth this particular go around is finite. There is only so much of it. When it’s gone, you don’t get anymore. Why, then, do we live as if it lasts forever, as if it’s one of those refillable buckets of movie popcorn where, even when you think you reach the bottom, there’s more to come?

I think of the dead guy. He probably had a to-do list sitting on his kitchen counter. He probably had a few things around the house he was planning to fix, people he needed to call, plans he had to make. Hell, maybe he even had a bucket list of things he wanted to do before he died. Not that that will happen now. Now, or ever.

A student asked me yesterday, “You’re always so happy and motivated. How do you do that?” I didn’t tell her about the guy on the steps. I didn’t tell her, but I thought of him as I offered up an answer. I thought of him as I told her that I’ve stopped doing things that I don’t like to do or don’t want to do. I thought of him as I told her that if I feel the urge to try something, I try it. I thought of him as I shared with her that I live MY life now and not the life that others would like me to live. I try to worry less about what others think of me. I put myself in my happy place as often as I can, and I take care to know exactly what that happy place is. I live a life of giving, of laughing, of living. If I like you, you’ll know it. If I don’t, well, you’ll know that, too. I live. I live because someday I will die.

There are no do-overs.

It’s like this. We begin life with zest and zeal and enthusiasm out the wazoo. We know who we are, and we aren’t afraid to show that. Then, over time, we are told to behave, be nice, be good. Be patient, be still, be realistic. We are told to be normal, be practical, be like all the other kids, for God’s sake. We shape ourselves, remake ourselves, do our best to fit in, to be what we think we are expected to be. We lose ourselves a bit. We begin living the life that others expect us to live, doing what others expect us to do, feeling what others expect us to feel. We become adults. There is no room in our grown up lives for that little girl, the one who knew who she was and what she was all about and wasn’t afraid to throw it out there for the world to see.

I’d rather shoot myself in the foot than sit through a meeting. Knowing this, then, why would I design a life for myself that involves meetings on a regular basis? The little girl in me looks out the window and wants to run play in the sunshine instead of wasting away a beautiful day inside listening to some overly full of herself co-worker drone on and on. The little girl in me wants to walk in nature, drive with the heat cranked up and the music blasting. I’ve honored my little girl self by designing a life where I have a job that involves moving around from room to room or building to building. I am never bored. I write. I can write anywhere. I even write outside. I write outside in the sunshine. But never in meetings. I don’t do meetings.

It didn’t take me very long to figure out how to be a grown up. I was a good girl. I was responsible. I did what was expected. I liked the praise and attention that came with that sort of behavior. Once I was grown, however, it took me quite awhile to learn how to be a child again. It took me quite awhile to learn to listen that little girl I used to be, the little girl who loved to take a book outside and sit under a tree and just read away the afternoon, the little girl who would sit others down for a song and dance, who wasn’t afraid to own a room, to grace a stage, to fill others with love and laughter and to hold out for the big applause at the end. It took me a long time to become again the little girl I once was. I am still working on it.

So when my student asked how I stay happy and motivated, I thought of the little girl I used to be, the little girl I have tried so hard to bring back into my life. I thought of the wannabe author, scrawling out characters and plots with fat pencils in lined tablets. I thought of the afternoons spent dancing on a bed that served as a makeshift stage, singing into a hairbrush microphone, belting out tunes for friends and sisters, reveling in the peals of laughter. I thought of the first day of school, an exciting time always with new textbook smell and sharpened number twos and lunch money pinned to my red plaid jumper. When my student asked how I stay happy and motivated, I thought about this little girl self of mine. I thought about her, and I thought about the dead man.

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