It’s a state of mind. It’s a series of milestones. It’s mostly about endings, about starting and finishing. On my seventh birthday, I told my mom I didn’t want any more. Somehow I knew life couldn’t get any better – that aging meant less of everything my life was then made of: sunlight and fresh air, running without fear of falling, and living without concern of consequences. I want to get that feeling back – to return to the constant now. To find a way free of responsibility. To shed the weight of years of worry. To lose my fear of falling.
The homeless man holds a cardboard sign towards my car while I idle at a red light. I am struck by the artistry of the sign, the layout and penmanship. I want to open the window, I want to tell him how much I admire his work, but I have no cash, and I am not a tease. The light changes to green. As I pass him, our eyes meet, so I give him a worthless smile. But he smiles back, a smile as beautiful as his sign. I think I’m the one who came away richer from the encounter.
What’s the difference between the herd of cows in the slaughter shoot and the herd of frequent flyers boarding a plane? There is none. (This is not a joke.) The chaos of the kindergarten classroom after recess is less stressful than the whiny business-casual crowd elbowing and shoving, me first, I have status! No chivalry here, all are equally more important than any other person there. I need room for my super-important bag, I need room for my super-important laptop with my super-important spreadsheet – don’t you dare lean that seat back, I’ll call the flight attendant and tell on you!
We speak now of the brilliance of the child. The adults charged with his care and instruction are in turn overwhelmed, frustrated, baffled and amused. Is it better to dim the blinding light – shutter – control – contain, or should one let it shine? Release the lambent humor, the distinctive speech, and the radiant thoughts and try to absorb the glow. Potentially suffer the anguish, albeit unintentional, of careless burns. We speak of the long and short consequences, of pain now or pain later. For the well-meaning adults and also for the child whose adulthood is but a few short years away.
On the inside, it feels like necessity. It feels like someone is handing me a new toy and all I do is reach out and take it. It feels like seeing an open door and simply stepping through. It feels like a lifeline, a sharpened sword, the perfect tool, there when I need it most. You tell me I am brave for the choices I have made, but bravery is finding a way when there is no way to find. I tell you there was no choice to make, my way was always clear, my path always easy to see.
A pretty word for such a dreaded event. Ah, my poor face, the blood is your enemy now. Not so in days past when young capillaries filled and emptied with efficiency. Then, a blush was a lovely addition, a cut flower, a temporary enhancement. Not so now, my matured skin, an old sponge that should have been thrown away last week, holds on to the blood, won’t let go, while the blood, trapped, starved for oxygen, dries and darkens, making my cheeks look mottled and bruised. Are you ok? Yes, I’m fine, just need to go powder my nose. Again.
“Any rough times are behind you.” The fortune cookie tells me, and I choose to believe it. Why not? I can believe that times will be good from now on, it harms no one and makes me happy. Joy fills my head and fills my day and maybe the next day and the next and then when the times that will be rough, whatever or whenever, arrive, they will make me as disappointed as they would have before, but I will read those words again, as soon as I can, and I will believe – that this was the last time.
Beauty is not a word I identify with. I was never the pretty one, I was smart, and smart was just as good. This does not imply that I feel ugly or un-beautiful. One’s own sense of one’s appearance is not a fact of black or white, regardless of one’s skin. “Beauty comes from within,” they say to the plain ones, and we all know it to be both true and false. We’ve seen beautiful eyes – alive and bright and full of fire and joy – and we’ve gasped and said, if only. If only to the image in the mirror.
We all have stories. Memories, experiences, events – all substantial. Stories are heavy. But I’d prefer it if you’d carry yours behind you. When you hold it all out in front like that, thrusting it into the room before you, it is distracting, it is all I can see. You, the real you, disappears. It isn’t what you carry that matters, it is how you carry it. Your stories are interesting through you, not you through them. Besides, you look as if you want to hand me some of it. Perhaps you can’t see it, but I’ve got enough to carry.
Do I hold anything to be self-evident? I doubt it. Power doesn’t always corrupt. Rich men are not always in want of a wife. Certainly not all men are born equal, I know too many losers. I’ve never seen a cloud with any sort of lining at all. I am even vaguely convinced that one day, despite my understanding of physics, the sun will in fact refuse to rise. There is nothing that is completely true, or completely false, really. Everything has exceptions. Even my own beliefs and doubts. Perhaps that is my only axiom, then: that there are none.