Sunlight streamed through the living room window, gleaming off the hardwood floors and whitewashed walls. I reflected, not for the first time, that the navy-blue curtains had been an excellent choice for the house's color scheme, and they shone a rich shade in the brilliant light of a springtime Alaska afternoon. The sun is up here now until about 11:30 at night, so at midday we're treated to some truly spectacular brightness when there isn't cloud cover.
"Sometimes I feel like being out here has made me a little bit weird," I confided to Wise Woman, who was seated across from me in the leather armchair and sipping a mug of steaming coffee.
"Yeah," she smiled winsomely. "You get too used to being alone. Sometimes I'll find myself being impatient with people. Someone will be talking to me after work and I'm standing there thinking, 'Can you please shut the hell up so I can go home and do nothing?' And then I stop and tell myself: 'People first, Wise Woman. People first.'"
The approach of my thirtieth birthday was an emotional catalyst in many ways. It capped a year, marked officially on March 2, filled with changes and growth and a surprising amount of self-discovery. In this last fourteen months I've felt, really for the first time, that I'm actually able to explore who I am and what my beliefs and priorities are. A lot of those questions got shunted down the line for later attention when I was hunkered in survival mode during most of my twenties, but finding myself alone on the tundra with plenty of time and no immediate crises opened the door to some unexpected conclusions.
As that April 10 ticked closer and closer, as 29 ebbed and 30 advanced and I looked back on the time passed and the manner in which I'd passed it, one inescapable thought recurred again and again and again.
I am going to die.
In a concrete, non-abstract way, I am going to depart this Earth following a finite amount of time, and then my days will be done. Then there will be no more sunrises.
I can't go so far as to say that thirty years has flown by, but ten sure did. And now I realize, in a way I never did before, that my day is not endless. I can see the continuum of my life the way one sees a weekend, or a long summer holiday you only just began, except now it's almost the Fourth of July and it hits you with a start that you're nearly a month into the thing. Life is like that. Like a week or a month or a vacation. At some point the time is up.
"I'm thirty years old," I said. "And I've been thinking, 'Hmm, Grand Pa Our Family lived into his seventies. My mother's parents both lived into their eighties. Grand Ma Normal Family is still around and she's 75.' I can probably count on hitting eighty. But even if I'm lucky and with medical advances and everything I make it to ninety, I'm still a third of the way through this thing. I've actually used up a good chunk of this time."
"Well," my 22-year-old brother Thomas's gruff voice responded from 4,000 miles away. "That's incredibly depressing."
"No, no it's not," I countered. "Don't you see? I realize the time is limited. So I want to use the time wisely. When I get to that ninety, I want to look back on a life well lived."
What precisely that means has occupied a lot of my time lately. How would one define a well-lived life? For one thing, in the context of a time-limited period whose contents I'll one day have to evaluate, the notion of expending any more effort on the traumas of the past--or, at least, any more than is necessary to move forward in a well-adjusted way--makes absolutely no sense. Those things were terrible enough when they happened, and dwelling on them only stretches out the moments of suffering. And who wants to look back on a life of looking back?
The early part of my existence was very sad, and I spent much of it being unhappy and afraid. But now it's over. Now I want to have fun. Now, as much as I can, I seek joy in life. The things that happened to me are things that happened to me, and need be no more. There's so much in the world to love.
To that end, I've made a few decisions. The first is that, barring something truly unforeseen, I will plan to spend at least one year teaching overseas and will evaluate my options from there. This plane we live on is so broad, and we have so little time to sample its offerings. I could never forgive myself if I didn't go. Which brings me to the second, vaguely radical choice I've settled upon: wherever the going takes me, I will pursue it without fear.
In accordance with this whole imminent-death thing, I sort of dispensed with polite fictions in conversations I was having with myself, and the clarity that followed illuminated how much I'd been allowing fear to dominate my choices. I very nearly didn't come to Alaska, something that would have been a white-mouthed, shrieking tragedy, and I would have played it safe with a position in Southern State had God not decided to throw me a curve ball (I've never been so happy to not get a job).
Which brings me to God. My conception of God has been completely enveloped in the transformative experience I had as a boy of twelve or thirteen, when I reached out unbidden to that deity and begged him: "Save me." And He did. That sense of liberation, of gratitude, was so profound that somewhere in my mind I had linked any questioning whatsoever of my Judeo-Christian beliefs with a personal betrayal of the God who pulled me up from the pit and brought me here. But the doubts were there anyway, and they were gradually eating away at my faith in a way far more corrosive than outright critical analysis would have done.
And so I asked Him for a reprieve. Some space for honesty, not that I might turn away from Him, but that I might come back.
"I'm looking for my faith," I told Him. "Please help me find it."
Now I'm looking, with no prior assumptions and no self-judgement. I'm following truth wherever it takes me, and I believe that with an open heart and an active summer reading list I'll just kind of get there when I'm supposed to, and how I'm supposed to. I'm not too far into it yet, but I can tell you one thing: that Buddha guy knew what he was talking about.
My quest for some kind of clearer understanding is emblematic of my approach to a lot of things lately. I'm aware of the agency I have in my life and believe that agency is critical, but beyond doing what I need to best position myself for positive outcomes, I can see much value to letting events unfold as they will. If you're doing what you should, that meandering path seems to get you, one way or another, to good things. Setbacks don't change that. Self-doubt doesn't change that. Temporary flares of anxiety, which I can promise you I still have, don't change that. And in the quest for a partner, for a professional trajectory, for the right place, I'm building the best foundation I can and then seeing where things take me.
The end of the school year fast approaches, and before long I will return to the Lower 48, where the house above awaits me. Teaching work is effectively over--students here check out, and hard, right around the first of April--and after two more weeks of leisurely school sessions we will officially dismiss for break. I'm hanging around in Gori for a week after that to get my house packed and my things shipped to Point Goldlace, where I've accepted a job for the fall. After a week to say goodbye to my neighbor, to this town and to this beautiful house, I'll stop over in Iceport for a few days and then jet back to the East Coast on June 4.
This summer I was fortunate enough to rent a house in Western City, far closer than last summer to the region where I went to college and grad school, so family and friends will abound. I miss my brother Thomas, who will turn 23 in little over a week; and my sister Pie, who will be 15 in June. She's now a teenager whom I feel I don't know, and I'm eager to get reacquainted. My birth-mother, Anne, has been too long unseen, and I've invited her down for a stay. Thirtieth-birthday shenanigans are already in the works with several old and new friends. A visit to a long-time blogging buddy will occur in June, and a beach-side drop-in on a co-worker is set for July.
It's been such a long winter here in Alaska. I can't wait to feel the sun on my face.