When I was a kid, I used to walk home from school and sit in a chair across from my mom in the living room. We would spend a good hour talking about things, stuff, life, books, school. We used to talk a lot.
I recall one afternoon when I felt consumed by the fact of being alive; being in my body looking out into a world around me filled with other people and an entire environment. I sat in that chair and kept enthusing, “Wow! Wow!” and my mom laughed at my amazement.
At that age, I must have been in that full-sweep of self-awareness.
These days, that experience of being three-dimensional, walking around, experiencing the world has largely extinguished. Occasionally I feel a little thrill that I am alive, but those feelings are scarce.
It feels like life as it is, is normal. And that it will end, which is a gently intrusive thought in my mind.
But it does raise the question of what I have done, what I am doing and where am I headed?
I’ve got all these impressive, grown-up, amazing friends. One studied to be an architect, is still an architect a few decades later, designs amazing things for low income populations, and went out and got himself a master’s degree in architectural history.
I have another close friend who has on one way or another invested herself in social services for decades, and is truly inspiring in her work with adults and seniors with disability.
Another friend has committed to teaching for over two decades (amazing). My oldest friend has stuck with and climbed the ladder with the US government to the top of her heap. She is so good at her job.
I run across people my age or younger on a daily basis who are accomplished, interesting, going places on a considered track. I also meet older people regularly who have done a bit of that, and happy to have taken the crooked path.
I have hopped from job to potential career to job back to another potential career with some constants among them, but without a ladder to climb. I don’t feel I can look back on my life up until now and find that solid foundation to build upon.
My foundation is made of my skills, my confidence, all the people I’ve met places and counties I’ve lived, jobs I have had, and at the least, the ability to re-create myself for a new career when it appears.
If you can call that a foundation. Doesn’t look all that good on a resume.
Where can I go from here? It feels a little like I am always starting over again, and time is running out.
I’m 45, and only now, with the gift of a camera 18 months ago, and my fortune landing a job in journalism later in my life, do I feel like I am nosing into the right direction.
So within my mind, there is an urgency to get somewhere soon. The problem is, I don’t know where I’m going. And in that, I feel incredibly selfish.
This morning, I had the privilege of listening to the story of a young Iraqi woman reflecting on her family back home, with ISIS at the borders of their cities.
She was speaking in the town I work at a morning tea for Refugee Week, and many people, mostly all women, converged to share some stories and support. People of every color sat around the small room.
This young woman lives about an hour and a half away, and arrived in Australia before ISIS found its frightening feet. She communicates with her family to get the news, much of which does not reach the ears and eyes of the rest of the world.
She spoke about the massacre of 1700 young men at the hand of Islamic State, and the confusion and fear about the future of her children. The Iraqi government scholarship she is studying with under in Australia has been jeopardized. It could mean she, her husband and their two young ones will have to return to Iraq.
She said she can face it, but does not want to expose her children to the violence and danger of her beloved homeland. Nobody should have to make those decisions. I was a bit in awe of her.
In the face of this uncertainty, she is getting a post-graduate degree. She is raising two children and keeping her life moving forward. If I had to guess, I’d imagine she thinks she doesn’t have time to dilly-dally over what to do with her life. She just gets on with it.
And I do, too. I was so fortunate to have had the life I have enjoyed. And still enjoy. I am grateful for my job, a steady wage, and a chance to do something every day I mostly enjoy, despite the stress.
And I make that stress. I am responsible for the stress, because I let it get to me. It’s as though I can’t see beyond its yellow haze to a clear path when that fog enrobes me.
No way can I resolve the thoughts about what’s ahead, but I do believe I am still trapped in this feeling of wonder that I am alive, and it is a golden cage.
I live each day, look a bit beyond the ties that bind me, and find it difficult to imagine what life could be like if it were better, or dare to hope I might actually have a chance at some of the jobs that I’d really like to do.
Maybe that’s normal. Maybe most of us exist on that diving board with safety and familiarity behind us, and we stand a little paralyzed at the mouth of what could be kind of scary, hazardous, but also potentially exhilarating.
I don’t have the answer to this. These days I am especially frozen, and tired, and a little stuck on the board. I feel a little like I’m steeling myself for a big change.
-The featured image was taken at the Wardman Park Hotel pool in Washington, DC, July 29, 1926. “Joyce Halderman. Red, White and Blue swimming troupe — swimmers of Panama Canal Zone. Exhibition of swimming, diving and life saving.”