If you accept that every moment is temporary, and every moment is as it should be, then the motivation to get up off the couch feels, well, small.
There are inevitabilities in life. We accept what we can’t change. Aging. Cancer. Separation. Death. Decisions we made twenty years ago or ten or a two ago that we thought somehow we could still reverse, we wake up one day and realize, no, at some point, doors do close, and the reset button no longer works. You might get some do-overs, but opportunities are not endless.
I’m turning 44 this year. 50 years of marriage are unlikely unless I meet and marry him tomorrow, and start eating a lot more vegetables, and also become — a large detail here — someone else almost entirely.
Biological children are, unless I’m hiding some super-duper long-lasting eggs, and, again, meet Mr. Wonderful (and fertile) tomorrow, a possibility that has closed.
Do I care about this much? No.
While I want love in my life, I also know that I have love in my life, even if I am indeed a cat lady bachelorette. I’m a cat lady with kickass friends and family, a cat lady with the capacity for intimacy even if, alas, that intimacy seldom involves heaving breasts and clenched thighs. It also, happily, doesn’t involve any divorce lawyers, a benefit cat ladies don’t often get cred for.
I was never a baby mongering type. My parents made parenting look like such a burdensome job, a series of stresses and debts and sacrifices, and so it’s never much appealed to me despite time enjoying the cooing and crying of friends’ loved and lovely little ones.
It’s more the biological need for meaning that keeps me up some nights, this night. The need to do something that matters pulls at me. And yet precious little really matters, and almost none of that overlaps with my skillset.
Parenthood, continuing life, does indeed feel important – the drive for continuing the species, pushing our ever mutating DNA forward for another 70 or 80 or 100 years. We’re wired for that, for the hope that some future generation will do better than we do now, will end poverty, hunger, war, will push the human potential for good to some magical space, will finally cure cancer, will fulfill our potential to be more than we can be now. We pass the buck to them and hope our best characteristics are the ones that do foster survival (which may or may not be the case).
It’s a big responsibility parenthood, and it’s no surprise that there are so many ways to screw it up, from abuse that can permanently smack fear and anger into kids, to helicopter parents squashing any personality or independence out of their children, to those parents that just check out, into one addiction or another – work, booze, power, sex. Whatever it is that keeps parents away, simple love and kindness can and often does nest at the base of this most primal of relationships. Bad and/or sad patterns are handed down from generation to generation, dusty heirlooms with occasional brilliant leaps forward through dumb luck and/or valiant effort.
My contemporaries and I are entering the age where our parents are suddenly more fragile. The endlessly energetic suddenly slow down with their remaining nervous fidgeting taking on an increasingly anxious tone. Those who never went to the doctor suddenly have stacks of specialist appointments.
For instance: my mother’s cancer has returned.
No one, least of all me, has cured cancer yet. That pisses me off.
How can it be that we have all this time on the planet, and the best idea for cancer we’ve come up with so far is hacking at it with surgery and then poisoning it with chemotherapy which, whoops, also poisons the healthy person that carries those cells around with him? That’s all we’ve got? Really?
It’s not enough, not for way, way too many people.
The Sandwich Generation, that’s what my contemporaries are called: those caring for aging parents and growing children at the same time. My sandwich is open-faced, looking forward with statistics and guesses.
There is nothing to say that other statistics might not apply – car accidents, poisoning and suicide are in the top 5 of causes for death for my age group. But in the age demographic of my parents, it’s all the body: heart disease, cancer, stroke. The equipment, no matter how well polished, breaks down.
And we accept, I accept, in calmer moments, the realities of life where the only guarantee once you’re born is, at some point, like Elvis, you’ll have to leave the building. I won’t get into the confusion of god(s), religion, physics, soul, or other subjects in which I am interested and not at all well versed. Instead I’ll just note: the sure bet is death.
And there is aspect of that that works. If you, like me, are sitting there living and breathing and feeling the world out there, sitting pain-free on a comfy couch, well-fed in a warm home, most problems are indeed petty. So what if the end is inevitable, and before you get there, you’ll likely see friends and family suffer and die? You will also see friends and family exult in love and triumphs of mind and body and creation. You’ll see tremendous beauty along the way. That has to be enough.
I should have been a doctor.
I should have cured cancer.
I should have solved this whole death problem.
Except that I can’t. I’m not that smart, and I’m not immune to the laws of reality.
So I turn off the TV and get up off the couch and trundle myself and my cats off to sleep, and I think about how lucky I am, and how even in time felt squandered, we are exactly where we should be, and who we should be.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Strive toward the light.