Present Tense

AirportI find myself waking up a lot with a single question on my mind, “Where are you?”

It’s allegorical.

I’m not waking in bed wondering, physically, where I am.

I’m wondering where I am in the time/space continuum, how I got here and where I’m going.

I feel the comfortable routine of mid-life settling in. Of peace. Of self-acceptance. Of situational acceptance (or is it resignation?).

And I’m not sure that I like it.

But maybe I do.

It’s one of those kinds of issues.

*    *   *

Yesterday, I turned 38, and thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I received birthday wishes from across the country. From people I haven’t seen in 20 years. From someone I dated for two weeks when I was 17.

I liked it. Those quickly banged out Facebook and text messages allowed me to relive an amazingly wide swath of my existence – each birthday message from somebody once and currently important in my life bringing back a flood of images and memories.

Some spawned conversations of their own, like the time myself and a couple of coworkers took a “retreat” up to Christopher Creek, Arizona to do some creative thinking for upcoming issues of the magazine I was editing at the time.

We got furiously, fantastically drunk. We hit all three of the bars in this no-stop-light-town; and then we walked home, screaming obscenities – one obscenity in particular – over and over. We were loud. Stumbling. Obnoxious.

We were staying in a cabin and as we walked state Highway 260 towards it; someone from a different cabin – hidden by trees and thick brush yelled out. “Shut up!” We didn’t. “I have a shotgun,” he replied. Without missing a beat, my one buddy, Bang, screamed back. “I got your daughter!”

Silence for a second. Then Mr. Shotgun replied with a sigh, “That was a good one.”

We fell into a roadside ditch and laughed. It took us a while to get back up and get home.

Without Facebook, a story forgotten.

*   *  *

That’s not why I’m here – to recount anecdotes.

Or maybe it is.

I’ve got countless anecdotes and stories much deeper than that – of love and loss and fear. Of incredible highs and great accomplishments.

And plenty of just the opposite – of bad choices and grave mistakes, some that nearly cost me my life.

The thing that all of those stories have in common is that they were all fueled by a driving restlessness that lived within me for nearly all of my life.

I had something to prove: that I was better, that I could do it all, that I could defy your expectations and that you – you – would come to see it.

But now that restlessness is gone. Maybe not gone completely, but nearly gone. Slipping quietly away with each restful night, reawakened each morning ever-so-briefly by that question.

“Where are you?”

Oftentimes, I shrug it off. I turn on the coffee maker. Walk out to the driveway – typically in my pajamas – and grab the paper. Open it up.

The Diamondbacks lost. Again.

Oh, it’s 6 a.m.? Time to wake the kids.

And then it’s gone.

*   *   *

Only, it’s never really gone, is it?

Because here it is, 9:15 p.m. One beer down. Second one in the glass.

And clickety-clack goes the keyboard.

Clearly, I’m searching for an answer.

So, here’s what I’ve come to know in the last couple months.

1)      I don’t know where it is that I want to go next.

2)      The things I worry about – save maintaining my health – have very little to do with me and lots to do with the people I’m closest to.

3)      Everybody is dealing with issues. Many of them insanely complex. They put on their best face at work, at parties, at the grocery store. Most people are good people by nature, doing the best they can. And we share more in common than we don’t. They deserve our compassion, not our scorn.

4)      I’ve stopped worrying about what other’s think. Not my wife, not my kids, not the employer who writes my paycheck and my reviews, but almost everyone else.

5)      I’m imperfect and I’m cool with that. I’ll never achieve perfection and no amount of abstaining from this or doing that every day will ever fix that.

6)      I’m insanely aware of time. Maybe even borderline obsessed. Not over that fact that I may not have time to achieve plan X, but more over the fact that our days are finite and that the periods in our lives when things are going really damn well are even more limited. So I focus on that, and try to live with gratitude.

It’s number 6 that, if I do get stuck lying awake at night, deep in thought, that I really get caught up on.

Where have the ladder-climbing career goals gone? Is the plan to be an author – not the guy that bashes out these blogs, but the real book-writing type – gone? The political dreams, too?

Am I really content to be a internet strategist for a utility from here to retirement?

For the first time ever, I’m not really in a rush to answer.

*   *  *

If I’m lucky, I’ll have 9 years with my son, and 11 with my daughter before they potentially go to college.

If I’m really lucky, we’ll deal with no more health issues in our immediate family both during the time they live at home and well beyond. Heidi and I will live a long healthy life, get to grow old, love our grandchildren and do dorky retirement crap like gardening on Tuesday afternoons.

But none of that is really is my control. None of it.

Sure, I can eat right and wear seat belts and make the kinds of choices that maximize safety in any situation. But we live in a random and unjust world.

Car accidents and disease and hardships don’t play favorites. They play odds. And sometimes bad things happen. And they are beyond our control.

I am reminded time and time again – most recently when I read former Channel 12 producer John Faherty’s incredible battle to survive a pancreas transplant – that life itself is the real gift.

That getting to ask that question, “Where am I?”, is the real luxury.

And so I’m left to think that maybe what I’m experiencing is mid-life without the crisis.

It’s the subtle awareness that not knowing where you’re going, that not knowing what tomorrow holds, and simply being content with that, is a sign of knowledge and age colliding in a sort of rare, perfect storm.

Tomorrow, perhaps, when the question arises again, “Where am I?”, I’ll answer it.

“I’m in bed, with my beautiful wife and I’m going to get up and have a cup of coffee, exercise a little bit, read the paper, get dressed and go to work. And later, I’ll call my kids (who are in NJ with grandma and grandpa), have some dinner and a beer and read for a while.”

And if I remember – and really hold on to the sentiment I’m feeling as I write these final words – I’ll know where I am is a really, really incredible place to be.




1 comment on “Present Tense

  1. Doug Bennett

    Fantastic reading, Ed. Trust me, things will come into focus in your 40s — if not sooner. Before much longer, you’ll have that critical mass of life experience that will help reveal your destiny and life’s purpose. I’m on the verge of completing a major life goal — one of those ones that’s so big that it’s on the very short list of future accomplishments I wrote down the day after college graduation. Enjoy the moment, though. Your late 30s really is a great time, and the 40s should be the best years of your life.

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