10 May 2011

The Melancholy of Thunder

As I sat on my porch tonight, I was surrounded by that perfect stillness of a warm, muggy summer night. Despite the fact it is still early May, the weather today carried notes of summer on the wings of the breezes and the distant roll of thunder in the background. The silence of an impending storm always puts me in a theoretical mood. As I sat there watching the muted flashes of lightening behind the heavy clouds, I felt a pleasant heaviness wash over me. I am 27 years old; I am grown up and these past few years have seen many changes in my life that all seem to point to adulthood on the horizon. I have not officially accepted it yet, but I feel it looming.

As the title of my blog indicates, I am at best a reluctant member of the adult world. At times, I am skeptical that this is really what all that "when I grow up" business was really about. Robert Frost said two roads diverged in a wood and he took the one less traveled. But life so far has taught me that where we end up is not so cut and dry. Life is not a series of major life decisions forcing us down one path or another. Life rarely offers us the opportunity to turn so dramatically.

Rather, life is a series of gradual veering, a series of small choices that lead us down a path before we even know we were walking. And suddenly, we look around ourselves, at the accouterments of adulthood, and wonder, "How on earth did I end up here?" Few people's adult lives look like the lives they imagined as children. This is not to say we are disappointed. More like surprised. And quietly bewildered.

This time of year, we tell the youth in our world that graduation is the opening of every door to them. But the truth is growing up is more an act of closing doors than opening them. Each choice we make, each door we choose to walk through, is an implicit decision to not make another choice, to close other doors. That it is not to say those doors can never be opened again, but it becomes more difficult to do so with age. They warp. They stick. And sometimes, it is easier to move on than fight against the creaking reluctance of old age. And so the bewilderment grows.

Thoreau said most people live lives of quiet desperation. I think he is overstating the case. I think quiet befuddlement is more appropriate. We muddle through, never quite sure how this all happened, but not necessarily ready or wanting to object to it. And so we become adults. And we see the young who arrive after us, eager for the forked road to determine their fate, and we are reluctant to disillusion them. We try to warn them in our own ways that each small choice will become the stuff of which life is made. But the beautiful arrogance of youth is indisposed to listening to the advice of the adults of the world. Perhaps they sense our befuddlement and believe they can immure themselves against it. They will know it soon enough.

Gradual or not, a slow veering or rapid turn, we must all make peace with the path we walk. My life is not what I expected. I will never get a good night's sleep between the months of September and June. I cannot afford to travel to the myriad of places I want to go. Insurance is too expensive. And despite my many wishes to the contrary, I was born with all four wisdom teeth and they will have to come out. But in general, as I watch the lightening gain strength and hear the thunder gain its voice, I am strangely content. How did I get here? I do not know. But I'm convinced it's a good place to be. And perhaps, for now, that's enough.

The thunder in the distance is grumbling louder and a breeze smelling of rain is wafting through my bedroom window. Indeed, something is looming on the horizon.

And so it goes.