“Less than thirty.”
“It can’t be that small,” she said. Technically, since we were talking about length, it wasn’t small, it was short. Oh, the insecurities of youth, right?
Normally, letting that pass without comment would have been about as possible for me as licking my own elbow or singing opera. This time it went by without a word or even a snigger, because I was concentrating on something.
I’d just done the math in my head, so I was seriously entertaining the thought that I’d made a rounding error; I was checking it by doing an easier problem:
“One hundred times three-sixty-five-point-two-five is . . . thirty-six-five-twenty-five. It’s right. Less than thirty.”
Twenty-seven is an important year, though we don’t really notice. That wasn’t the bit she was commenting on, though—and no, it wasn’t that bit, either. She was commenting on what I’d said moments prior, “Less than thirty.”
The math there wasn’t really too hard to do: Twenty-four thousand, plus four thousand eight hundred, plus four hundred, plus twenty, equals twenty-nine thousand two hundred twenty. Less than thirty.
It can’t be that short.
And it does seem short, doesn’t it?
Most things, they seem smallest when lumped together into a few large aggregates, but eighty years seems so . . . vast. There’s a lot of time in eighty years. Time to change, time to do the things you’ve been putting off, time to go back, time to go forward, time to dream and to fail, and fail, until you succeed, and time still then to enjoy that success. Time to recline and bask in a life well-lived, even though we haven’t yet found time for the living.
Like I said, twenty-seven is an important year. I’m twenty-seven. Twenty-seven is young. Old enough to have watched friends die and watched friends have children of their own, but young. Twenty-seven is the year you turn ten thousand, and ten thousand days, that’s old, when you probably won’t see thirty.
Somehow, thirty thousand is less than eighty. It works by months, too; you probably won’t see a thousand months pass you by. Suddenly each month is a tenth of a percent of your life ticked off with each turn of the calendar page.
Like most people my age, I think, I see myself as independent, adventurous. I take risks, and I’m willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of future goals. I move a lot. I mean, I’m the guy who dropped out of chemistry grad school to live in his car, travel, and write. Wanderlust is my defining feature.
On the second day after I left, I stopped at a waterfall—well, actually, I drove past a waterfall—in the Rockies. Then I turned around on the shoulder of the road, stopped to talk briefly to a guy who was rollerblading across the United States (he’s still the only person I’ve ever seen with calves bigger than his quads), and drove about a mile back to the fall. I parked in between an army of RVs, most with little Jeeps being towed behind, like remoras. I walked down the trail through a sea of retirees, and stood for a moment at the barricade with them. Then I walked past it, up a narrow trail, mossy and slick from the mist, and climbed up along the side of it. The roar was defining, the rocks were sharp, the water everywhere, and so cold I was sure it wasn’t water at all; it was just ice that needed to be somewhere in a hurry.
I looked back, and I saw them down there, little white heads behind the barricade. People who had worked their whole lives so they could afford to view life from a distance someday, safely behind the railing. That was the last time I had a single doubt about whether leaving grad school was the right choice.
That was then. It’s harder to justify that view staring at 10,205 days, gone. I . . . what have I done worth noting, really? Here I am, probably staring at a third of my life in the rear view, and do I actually know who I am, or where I’m going?
I just stopped writing this to talk to a college friend who walked into this random Starbucks—small world—and he’s doing physical rehab now. He was another chem guy back when we were in school together. As he put it, “I know what I want to do, it just took me six extra effing years.”
Serendipity is the best part of life. I was going to write about the difficulty of plotting a path. That was stupid, and my friend reminded me why.
See, I’ve got that much figured out. We’re lots of people, each of us, and we’re going lots of places. It’s not a lack of paths which besets us, it’s a lack of inner certainty. Our lives are nothing but paths tangled all over one another.
Life is a buffet where they serve everything but you only get one plate; it’s easy to be paralyzed by the decision.
Let’s be clear, here, it’s not about fear of where we’re headed, for most of us, it’s about fear of missing what’s on the other path. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that standing there, staring at the fork in the road sign costs us both paths. There’s a you down both paths; the question is, Which you would you rather be?
Most of life is not finding answers, it’s finding the right questions, and I think that’s the right one.
Is the me who stays here the me I want to be? Or is it the me who goes there?
The truth is any one path can get you almost anywhere. They overlap, over and over. You can scale cliffs and slide down slopes, cut across trails, and duck under railings. Pick a direction you like, and take whatever trail will take you there. If don’t know which direction to go, go see what this one or the other looks like, you can always work your way around.
There’s that stupid old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, screw that. Wherever you go, there you’re going.
You’ll get where you’re going. Just—you know—walk, because you’ve only got thirty thousand days to spend getting there. Life is short, but that doesn’t mean it’s small.
At the end of the days, it’s not really about how many days you lived, it’s about how many days you loved.