Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When The Fog Lifts

My colleague, a philosophy professor, was standing in the doorway of her office talking to a student who will be graduating in May.  “The question to ask is what do you want from your life?” she said to the young woman.  Graduation day is on the horizon.  The future’s calling.

What do you want from your life?

There are no coincidences.  Everything happens for a reason.  Kismet.  The moment when you catch the wind of change as it ruffles through the trees outside the window of your life.  That’s magic.  You know, as you stare at the stars, that there is something more.  This is not all there is.

We were eating dinner at home later that evening when my wife said something we’d both been thinking about for a long time.  It was time for a change.  Our life seemed stalled, caught in a holding pattern.  “We need to think about what the next phase of our life will be about,” she said.  “Where do we want to be in the future?”

For so long, we just tried to keep pace, we tried to stay afloat.  All through college and into the early days of our teaching careers, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Just get through it.  Teach here.  Teach there.  We did not think about the future, about the after.  Time would take care of things.  Fate would dictate what we would do.

Only one day you wake up and you’re fifty and it is time to really think about what we want from our lives.  We’ve spent too many years compromising, taking whatever came next.  We survived, but now we wanted something more.

“We need to think about where we want to live,” she said.

Los Angeles has been wearing us down.  Too much traffic, too much crime.  In the morning, people wander up and down the block tearing through the trash looking for cans and recyclables.  They glare at us and mutter when we leave for work.  Late at night, drunks from the bar up the street wander around, getting in fights.  Gunshots and blood-curdling screams are not uncommon.  The neighborhood is in decline.  We cannot sleep, cannot find peace, cannot reach the still point.

So change may include moving away from L.A.  We both grew up here, have lived our entire lives within a five mile radius of where we live now.  We’ve traveled.  We’ve experienced other cities, some of which felt like they could have been home in another lifetime.  But what would it be like to leave L.A., the only home we’ve known, behind for good?

Truth is, the street where I live does not feel like home anymore.  Los Angeles is not a city that inspires loyalty.  It is not Philadelphia, or New York, or Boston.  It is a sun-blasted, jagged piece of broken glass, one good ground shift away from disaster.  Fires in the hills, sewage in the bay, a lot of phony people pissing on your leg and telling you it’s raining.  But we know better; as the song goes, it never rains in southern California, and at the end of the day, piss is always piss.

I told her about the discussion I overheard at work.  The question was meant for a 22 year old on the cusp of the rest of her life, but maybe it is a question we should all ask ourselves periodically at whatever age.  This is about stages, about chapters, about a story never finished.

Well, what would life be like in northern California, or Oregon, or New York?  Home is as much a state of mind as it is a physical place.  Even though we’ve grown up here, Los Angeles has never been complete enough to call home.  It is not like Battery Park in summer twilight, or the beach at Carmel on a crisp and windy winter’s day.

Maybe it should be painted in broader strokes.  The street where we choose to live is the street of the world.  The world is our home.  The world is part of the greater universe, therefore the universe is our home.

Maybe it should be more intimate and internal.  Wherever the two of us are, that is home.  Home is us, wherever in the universe we find ourselves at the end of the day.

We decide to raise our eyes and look to the horizon, to look beyond this moment, or even the next moment.  If life is a journey, we must never lose sight of the longer road.  Don’t confuse the street for the highway.  It will be a delicate balance to live in the present, to be in the moment while also telling ourselves that fate may have more in store for us.  The moment may be all we have, but it is not all.  We cannot live in a drop of rain without understanding that there are storm clouds and sunlight and a bigger world, and destiny means recognizing the river of rain that flows into the greater sea.  Life is large, to paraphrase Whitman; it contains multitudes of possibilities.  We are never too old to think of what might be possible if we dare to dream.

So we begin to think and plan and throw out some cosmic rays into the universe and see what comes of it.

What do you want from your life?

We want more.


Lori said...

Paul, this is one of your best posts ever, in my opinion. 19 months ago we left our home of 25 years in rural Missouri & moved back to Cali. (I'm an L.A. native, there for 31 years.)
Instead of moving back to L.A. we moved to Central California. The pace is a little slower,a good mix of rural and big city.
I also changed my career path. I'm now writing full time and actually making money! :) At the age of 56 I say the risk is worth the reward for me. Praying you & your wife find your way to your new path!

Paul L. Martin said...

Thank you, Lori. I appreciate the reading of my piece and your story. We love central California, especially the San Luis Obispo area. Maybe some day we will be neighbors.