If you came here looking for poetry I have to apologise from the start. Perhaps these meandering thoughts can pass as paragraph poetry but certainly not an ode. Why call it an ode you say? Because I believe that although adulthood comes with its unexpected, unfurling, sometimes wild twists and turns, there is some metaphorical, beauteous, methodical rhyme scheme in it so I’m hoping maybe today you will find it, and if you do share it with me. These thoughts are a few weeks old but there are questions that still linger. Do you have them too?
I remember it well, when I was young my mother asked me: “so how will you survive in the real world?”
I was a quick learner. I could navigate a broad, foreign land alone. I could get through alive. But I was terribly sensitive and sometimes more cerebral than would be helpful in a situation that needed a touch and go response. I did not know how to flick surface statements to the ground and keep on moving. I processed people’s facial expressions, emotional history, approachability.. Anything that could give me a reading on what came out of their mouths. As I aged as all of us will, I realised that this process often took more drilling past the surface because sometimes the waters got murky. The older we get, some of us apply more masks to our faces either to win the my horse is bigger than your horse game, or to protect ourselves from ill-meaning others. Social norms and graces we often decorate this as.
Adulting probably looks different for most but it often seemed to me to come down to doing what it takes to survive i.e. adapting to what you come up against to get by. Perhaps this entails giving the impression that everything is under control for some or at least avoiding talk about how chaotic things really are. And I was terrible at it. As someone who thrives on building inner life I could not switch out masks at will. I could not be stony faced at the gentlest offense, I could not laugh with people who hated my guts. I could possibly show kindness to them but I would prefer to avoid any measure of disingenuous confrontation.
I like people, I have found, very much. I like to know what motivates them and what their dreams are. One of the hard hitting realities of adulthood however is that often many will not repay the investment of your thoughts the same way you may express interest in others. People come to you for help but sometimes others are unwilling to take a minute to find out if you’re getting through, holding together the strands of your neurons and trying to avoid going further than half past madness. Most people presume that the challenge is there for us all and if they find a way to move along the groove you must be doing it too. I am by no means suggesting that we live with a do for do mentality (although giving out the kindness you receive is wonderful). But if we only give kindness to get it back we give with the wrong motive. And chances are we won’t get it back.
Asking for help is harder. We all look in through the wintry glass window and presume well if all looks well it all must be well. We don’t always think about the baby who chirps mama like clock work and the perennial messes laid out like obstacle courses around the house. We will never ask about how the couple is too tired from their day’s work to heighten their sex life. We won’t know how the death of the grandfather is still eating her out. How broken promises have made him less trustworthy. How they don’t have enough money for a car so they walk because they use whatever is left over to look after their ailing parents. We oft do not know sacrifices and what they cost. Or we simply have no capacity to tell them or to hear others tell them. We call it complaining.
So we bear up under the weight of life. It’s always full of heavy things, beautiful things, hard things. It’s always full of stuff. But we don’t take a minute to pick around the junk yard to find valuables we may possibly find lilting and life changing. Instead we trail around with two mediocre half crumpled tokens in our hands searching for the path of least resistance. We have no time for reflection between hurrying through conversations, picking up the children, collecting and banking the pay cheques. Even on vacations we work long hours. Building and building to a place of sometimes death. Sometimes nothing.
When we reach what we want sometimes we find ourselves disillusioned. My son will always desire something out of reach. He will cry for it. The minute he has access to it, it occupies him a moment and then he moves on to something else. This cycle rolls into adulthood. We see things, we want them, we work towards them, we clinch them. And then we ask ourselves: isn’t life more than this? And we find some other temporary thing to chase.
In the end all is vanity. When you go, not everyone will remember you or the value you made. Your space is quickly filled as is your grave and though you live on sometimes once a year in thoughts everyone learns to live on without you. New people arrive who know nothing of you and your name becomes a glistening whisper gone with time. What do we do then? We shut away all the clutter and noise and we find the things that make every moment worthwhile. We don’t know the future. We can’t guarantee all these small things will last like family and friends and ponderings and nature and adventures and opportunities and beliefs. But do we know how much they matter?
I think that we can guarantee that happiness is an artform trained in the appreciation of the smallest and the simplest of things. And waiting for people’s lauding and praise is a frustrating greed machine that leaves you unsatisfied and irritated with insatiable hunger for more commendation. I always remember Cindy Trimm talking about forgetting about what you have lost and focusing on what remains. Do you see anything worthwhile remaining? Can you find value in that fleeting thing called life? Forget all that’s gone behind and hold the fortuitous for a moment. It’s yours at least. Keep holding it every moment. I promise there’s something to hold. Remind yourself and let your lips wrap themselves around gratitude and your mind around peace. It can be a lot of work but the paycheck is stability.
So for all the ambitious masterminding and impressing and scaling up the rungs of the accomplishment ladder and acquisition of possessions and the wild chase down the rabbit hole called the internet and the obsession with presenting perfect and preoccupation with everyone else’s business and the niggling need to be known. Aside from all these things we have come to prioritise. If we could find a way in the middle to find childish fascination in the most mundane of events and small blessings and occurrences that we often take for granted. If we could train the detailed eye of happiness. Maybe we could navigate the junk yard like a garden with more wonder and less resignation. Maybe?