“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis
Wintry day in late 2012
Last night I had a dream that it was the first day of college all over again. Which was more than a decade ago! A bit scary to realize that. But yes, I dreamt that I was back to the first day of college. I woke up still in the thrall of the dream, and I lay prone in bed while my alarm chimed. I savored the remembered feeling of possibility, that anything could happen, that I could go anywhere, do anything, be anything. That was how I felt in college. It was glorious.
A few minutes later I got out of bed and went about the morning routine: brush teeth, shower, drink water, pack a piece of fruit for the commute. But the feeling still buzzed around my head like a cloud of bees. I’ve missed it. Haven’t felt it for, well, years!
One of the hard truths about being an adult is that you can’t do everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Being an astronaut precludes being a ballerina which precludes being a lawyer which makes it impossible to also be a doctor. So I think adulthood is about choices. As a child you are pushing the boundaries, learning what you can do, what you can’t, and what the world is willing to offer you–and what it won’t. As adults, we choose. We choose to be the astronaut but not the lawyer. We choose to live in Los Angeles and therefore not in Katmandu. We say goodbye to all those other possibilities.
So as happy as I am in my life and while I have utterly no wish to exchange it, I do occasionally miss that sense of could be.
The only time when I can feel it again is when I dream, as I did on New Year’s Eve, or when I draw or write. Then everything changes; the lines of my life are erased and I can create something new, even if it is small or strange or impossible.
I think that maybe watching children grow up gives adults a sense of this again, vicariously. I remember adults telling me, while I was in high school or college, that those were “the best years of my life.” I remember thinking how sad that was. Now I suspect that sentiment didn’t come from, say, enjoying the rather shallow delights of late adolescence, but rather from that sense of could be. They were on the edge of everything.
Then they started making choices, or decisions, and maybe they felt that their lives were pinched in. So that time when they could have gone almost anywhere–made almost any choice–was crystallized in memory as the best years, the best time.
As much as I love could be I want to love what I am doing now, and what is happening in my life now. I see no reason why these years can’t be the best years of my life, or why the years to come can’t be their own kind of amazing. There is less could be and there is less of that kind of arms-wide-open possibility as time passes, but everywhere there are cracks in the structure. And they give me a sense of perspective that pure freedom never could.
My life is better now than it has ever been. Could be is to now as grape juice is to wine. I want to taste it properly, appreciate its richness and fathom its depths. That’s a good goal for the new year.