When R. and I were in our 20s, we regularly worked 90-hour weeks to secure a present and a future for ourselves and the children we hoped to have one day. We had a breathless balancing act of hours in a day and dollars in our bank account, relentlessly trying not to run out of one or the other before we had run through obligations for them. I remember ongoing conversations I had then with an age-peer within our community, her chipper monologues on her custom home build; I remember the particular detail that she forbade (her word) the builders from running electricity to allow for overhead lights in any room. (Looking back, I think: Even as a capped back up, for a future buyer? Even for recessed lighting in the kitchen? For a chandelier in the dining room? What about the stairwell?) She had grown up in a beautiful home, among beautiful homes, and now she would have her very own, in her mid-20s. She was blond and perky and confident about her taste and her decisions and her secure materiality, none of it purchased with her own labor. I wanted to be happy for her; that was hard to access. I didn’t wish any sort of ill on her, nor for a tornado to strike the construction zone. But it was difficult for me not to feel around her like an ugly duckling that was soaked from a thunderous southern rain, exhausted from paddling upstream. Honk, honk.
As I made a quick lunch today between meetings, I listened to part of a rerun of Jane Clayson’s interview with Mary Pipher, PhD, the author, most recently, of “A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence.” I had heard the original interview last June in its entirety, and I loved it so much then that I wanted to hear Mary’s voice and wisdom again, especially her account of doing dishes slowly with her grandmother, slowly so that they had more time together. In the interview, Pipher points out that these qualities we resist and struggle with, impermanence and uncertainty, are essential to our life’s experiences and we benefit from becoming more comfortable with them. A thought of mine on impermanence: The only things we mourn the loss of are those that we deeply loved, so how lucky were we to have had them in the first place? And on uncertainty: If something “bad” can surprise us, can blindside us and rock our world, so also can something wonderful and unplanned, unbidden and maybe only secretly hoped for, maybe even beyond our dreams.
That long-ago acquaintance completed the home building project around the same time R. and I learned that our carefully laid and executed plans had come to a dead end, despite all we had done and accomplished toward them. Graduations, jobs ending, apartment lease ending at the end of the summer, and we had no idea (yet, then) how and what we were going to piece together. “You have no idea where you’re going to be in August?! No idea what you’re going to be doing?!” my acquaintance asked me. “I would die if I didn’t know what would happen in August.” I hope I would be more gentle now in my response—knowing that in this messy world of ours, seeming perfection seldom persists if it ever exists—but I said then, “None of us knows what will happen in August. I just know I don’t know.”