Dear D.L.D.,

Someone recently told me that what people don’t understand is that her generation is the future.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of generations. The arbitrary grouping that attempts to “fix” time in snapshots. Being born in between generations, I can’t find myself in any of the pictures. My children, as well, fall between the recorded chapters of history. Bystanders to The history: it is a strange – but perhaps privileged – point of view.

That said, there was a time when I also thought of the future as a fixed state to be achieved. I saw a hard line that divided – and would divide – the old from the new.

I don’t see the world like that any more: in segments that will tick by, more or less tolerably, until we reach what we’ve aimed for.

I believe the Buddha was right in that there is something fundamental in our nature that is determined to reject impermanence. But I suspect the rejection of this mark of existence (as the Buddhists call it) isn’t only experienced as suffering, but sometimes as hope.

I understand when young people see the world this way: hoping to achieve… utopia?

But I find it puzzling that people who have lived their lives through the culture’s arbitrary increments of “generations”, who have seen the pendulum swinging, still pin their hopes (and the responsibility) on youth to someday achieve the fixed and perfect future.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder if it is an extension of our culture’s worship of youth? And if sometimes I envy their hope? You lose that when you think you have learned all you can learn, know all you will know–

No. Wait. I don’t believe that. That is the cultural trope of closed-minded old people.

You lose hope when you live long enough to see that what you knew for certain – when you knew everything – turned out not to be true. And you decide that there is no reason to keep learning. This can happen at any age: Mid-life Crisis, Quarter-life Crisis, Teenage Nihilism.

But every moment is a future – every moment encompasses the contributions of all “generations” (and each generation’s internal contradictions) and all circumstances.

And every future slips by with every breath, unacknowledged.

No age has the corner on solipsism.


Life can survive in the constant shadow of illness, and even rise to moments of rampant joy, but the shadow remains, and one has to make space for it. – DIANE ACKERMAN


People keep describing these past months as “unprecedented”.

Seriously?

We measure reality in such small packages – our small collections of private experiences. Twenty years slip by, maybe another twenty… and from this tiny window we proclaim a a sum understanding of the human experience to determine the proper trajectory for (the organisation of) human behavior.

We don’t even glance sideways.
And if we do, we dismiss it: We are the future, after all.


You were the future once, too. And it slipped right past you, making your head spin.

I wonder if all that you clung to for comfort just made your suffering worse in the end?

Respectfully,
Ren

The 27th leg of Camino.


I’m falling behind now, tending a fever and a headache.

Someone pointed out that it’s not unusual to fall ill at the end of a long project. I ended a long project on Friday and have been looking forward to starting on something new. The efforts of our lives overlap and there is no real time for a clean break or fresh start. There is always something the dirty laundry. Maybe that the body forces a break is “not unusual”.

I suppose, though, it is unusual to be so paranoid about a mild illness. I’ve been trying not to immerse myself in the waves of information coming over the internet. I am trying to let go of the feeling of urgency and to stay in the moments, instead of simultaneously speculating about what the moments mean. Might mean. There is a false security in predicting and embracing prophecies – even the dark ones.

Before I came down with a fever, I was running again. Doing yoga in the early morning: in camel pose, watching a wisp of cloud move over the sky.  I’m trying to see this illness as a kind of deferment. Nothing more. I’ve been temped to take down Sontag’s book from the shelf to read again, but the headache – and now the catching up I have to do. Want to do. I want my body back. I want the ease of movement.

In February, we ran along the Northumberland beaches and then stayed a couple days in Edinburgh because I wanted to see Mary King’s Cross. One of those cheesy, historical tourist traps I love. The guide talked about the plague when it came to Mary King’s Cross. The doctor’s plague masks, the dead. The whole while this virus was in the back of my mind: when we were standing crowded together under the tent at the start of the race, when I lay on the masseuse’s table the following day, in the airport on the way home. All the bad dreams we have in our heads. What do we pay attention to? It turned out we were about a week ahead of the virus. But things could have been different.

We have been lucky here these months. It’s been a mind-game trying to hold the reality in a global perspective, a local perspective, and a potential perspective. It’s not over – though I was supposed to be on the train yesterday and at work again.

What am I doing with my life? I do take my stock of my choices often. Probably too often. Three times in my life, I thought I had only moments to live. Someone asked me recently if surviving the blood clot made me more grateful for life. I wish it had. I wish I’d had some kind of literature-worthy epiphany about how best to live my life. Instead, I had a relapse of CPTSD symptoms and a very slow emotional convalescence. I won’t be writing a self-help book anytime soon.

This whole virtual journey has been about finding out what I want. Recognizing myself as I interact with the world. Making choices based on desires. Desires of doing, not being. I am not sure I have ever wished for things. But I have wished for talents. And to be honest, I am not sure how much those talents were only means to an end: respect, validation, approval.

As our guide asks us today to consider our dreams for the future, I think about these wishes I’ve had over the years. Some forgotten. Some unexpectedly fleeting: but had. I still wish for talents – as a means, and as an end. But something has shifted. I dream of cultivating joy.

And just as creating a good novel is as much a matter of prudent editing as is it good writing, perhaps cultivating joy is as much about removing judgement and criticism as it nurturing beauty.