I thought I was going to have more time. More time with the kids. More time with loved ones. I thought I was going to have it all figured out. I thought I was going to be more financially secure. I thought there would be more time for family vacations. I thought, I thought.
But life happened. You got older. You became everything you thought you wouldn’t. You had kids and they grew older. People you thought would be together forever got divorced. People you love dearly got sick… and died. Friends came in and out of your life. Some were seasonal, some more permanent. All stay forever in your heart.
In the last few weeks, it seems I’ve had the same conversation with scores of people. Maybe it’s because I’m leaving and so in terms of conversation- I find that nothing is off limits. Or maybe it’s because it’s down to the wire. The people around me now are it. My core, my center. I’ve cut the fluff. We have nothing to lose or gain. We are losing time, with every second. It seems trivial to talk about how busy we are, the day-to-day of life. And so we talk about the real stuff. The sad stuff. The scary stuff. The no-bullshit stuff. The what you really mean to me stuff. Regrets. Dreams. Failures.
Life’s stages are beautifully described in Shel Silverstein’s children’s book The Giving Tree. I highly recommend it if you don’t already have it in your library. Every single friggin’ time I read it to one of the kids I cry. The more I read it the more I cry because the older I get, the more I get it. In the beginning of the story, the boy requires so much from the tree. And the tree gives it all, each time the boy comes back, each time a bit older and in a different life stage, requiring something different. In the end, the tree has nothing to give, it’s just a stump after having given everything to the boy. And the boy finds he requires nothing in the end. Beautiful.
So like in life. You start out all shiny and new, it seems like everyone and everything around you is like that. In college you make mistakes, you fix them, there is still time and you are in control of your destiny. You graduate, find a nice cozy job that turns into a career or not. People begin to pair off, you attend weddings- lots of them. You are busy, if you are lucky you get to travel, you work and make money, go out to happy hour after work with co-workers. Your co-workers are your life. You are exploring the world and full of life, energy and plans.
Then you hit your 30’s. You are in building mode. Building a life, a marriage, a career and a family. You are always multi-tasking, trying to make it work. Aching for balance and stretching yourself in a million ways. If you are lucky, you get to travel for work for job conferences. Suddenly- places like Chicago and Dallas Fort-Worth, Texas don’t seem so bad. You order room service, take a warm bath and fall asleep by 9:30 p.m. Happy hour?What happy hour? You’d rather sleep. A few friends divorce but you think well- it’s just one or two- that’s just how life goes.
Then BOOM. The 40’s happen. And you literally become a cliche. Seriously. Foot pain. Back pain. It feels like everyone is divorced whose wedding you attended in your 20’s. Problems are serious and can’t be fixed so easily. Sometimes the problems never get fixed. You are no longer in control of anything. Parents get sick. Sometimes they die. Friends and spouses get sick or lose their jobs. Danger feels like it lurks around the corner. Or as a friend of mine said, “I’m just waiting, waiting for the next crisis to come. Don’t think for a moment you are in the clear. You aren’t. You’re just waiting for the next thing.”
This my friends is the land of broken dreams. The dreams you planned for and built for in your 20’s and 30’s. Poof- they are gone. And now we sit around and ask ourselves. How did we get here? How are we the parents of teenagers? There’s only 5 years left before they leave. How will we do all the things we wanted to do with the kids? Family vacations we wanted to take? Life wisdom we wanted to impart to them? Why didn’t we stay at that job a bit longer? Planned a little better? Did things a little differently? We sigh and carry this burden. The burden of disappointment that our life didn’t turn out the way we thought it would.
I think back to The Giving Tree. You don’t need anything. In the end, you don’t need a darn thing. We are fine just the way we are. We are living the life we are supposed to have. We need to somehow through the disappointment and sadness and regret, embrace the joy and happiness and the NOW. Exactly the way it is. With the people that are in it. That’s what it comes down to in the end. The people. Every single last one of them.