Moment of Truth

Maybe it’s a product of realizing that what poet Mary Oliver calls your “one wild, precious life” is passing by in a swift blur, or maybe it’s just the wisdom of age, but somewhere along the line you step back, take a look at the big picture and think, Wow. This is my life, my time, my one guaranteed ride on this beautiful planet. Who the heck is driving the bus?

Next stop? Midlife crisis.

Let’s rephrase that, shall we? Let’s call it life catharsis, instead, since it can happen to any of us at any time regardless of our age. Maybe it’s a brush with ill health or the loss of a loved one or a cherished relationship. Maybe it’s losing a job and a home and the image we’ve built around them.

Catharsis is the releasing or purging of emotion, historically associated with Greek tragedies. But the tragedy doesn’t have to be part of it, or at least doesn’t have to be epic in proportion. Maybe the catharsis is triggered by a simple wake up call, or by simply waking up one morning thinking, What am I doing here?

More importantly – and hopefully this is the next question, not what shiny car shall I buy or with whom shall I cheat on my spouse – What would I rather be doing instead?

I’ll be 45 this summer. I was orphaned at 39. Funny, that phrase, but there is something inherently freeing – though admittedly painful – about being “nobody’s daughter”. Once the edges of grief were worn down, I realized that I didn’t have to please anyone anymore. It’s a child’s natural instinct to try to win a parent’s approval (when they aren’t trying their darnedest to piss the parent off, that is) and I think we slowly but surely let that bleed out into a pool around us. Please the teacher, the neighbor who bakes you cookies, the girl scout leader, the friends, the popular kids, the lovers, the boss… You get the picture. Pretty soon you’re up to your neck, drowning in the expectations and projections of others.

Then one day you wake up, wise up and say, Screw that.

I’m pleasing myself, from here on out.

It’s a rush. It’s amazing. It’s terrifying. It’s like a snake shedding its skin, feeling so uncomfortable and vulnerable, or a caterpillar climbing into a cocoon not knowing if it will make it through the metamorphosis. But what’s on the other side? Wings. Shiny new scales. Endless, unimaginable possibilities.

I can’t tell you what the journey might look like for you, but I will tell you this. There will be resistance. People you would expect to support you will rush at you with pins, eager to pop your happy bubble, and not because they’re mean (though some of them may be). Some of them may be afraid of losing you, or not liking the person you’re about to become and some of them are afraid of change, period. Others might be choking on the dust of their own neglected dreams and the idea – the possibility – of seeing you achieve yours makes them feel like a failure. It doesn’t matter. None of that is yours. Neither is the negativity, or the pessimism or the endless deflections, distractions and destructive rhetoric that will likely get chucked at you. (It’s all as relevant as monkey poop, but just as smelly and tricky to dodge.)

Like I said, it doesn’t matter.

This life is yours. You should spend it as you wish (with the usual caveat that you shouldn’t be breaking laws or causing harm to others). You only have one chance to live this particular lifetime. If you have a dream that’s grounded in real possibility and the guts to work at it until it comes true? Go for it! Damn the torpedoes – and the naysayers – roll up your sleeves and dig in. Grab life by the lapels and drag it in for a long, deep, mind-blowing kiss.

And, most importantly? Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

9 responses to “Moment of Truth

  1. This Moment of Truth is the greatest anyone can arrive at. While all of life’s garbage remains mounded on top of it, obscuring your true self from view, knowing who you are must precede everything else. Your greatest priority should be digging yourself out, if you are still buried beneath everyone else’s expectations. You must learn to recognize the identities you have developed—Mommy’s little angel, Daddy’s lawyer, your friends’ whatever—and the lies you have told yourself to assuage all their demands. Then discard them. Without a clear understanding of who you are, you cannot treasure yourself, you cannot decide what you really want from life. You cannot become what you always should be: your own best friend. After all, when everyone else has abandoned you, who is left?

    Two seriously great posts in a row, Lisa. You’re becoming a hard act to follow. :)

  2. And what kind of butterfly or snake will you be? I’m not sure even a butterfly knows what’s coming when it bursts out of its coccoon – but it’s gonna be exciting!

    Kate

  3. Well said… No! Beautifully said! A lesson for everyone, albeit, a difficult lesson at times to carry out. The chains of control are strong and terribly hard to break, But being able to fly is worth the effort.

    Wally

  4. I’ve had a few of those moments that added up to the drive to take a risk and focus on what gives me joy–my writing. The first (and most dramatic) was a serious skiing accident 11 years ago that left me (fortunately–temporarily) paralyzed from the neck down. Yes, time *is* relative. I lived a lifetime in the 15 minutes I lay there in the snow unable to feel or move. I remember asking myself if I’d done everything I meant to do, considering it, and then answering ‘no.’ Not long after I recovered, I started writing seriously.

    All those kind of moments remind you that life is short and uncertain. There is no prize for suffering. And the only expectations that you need to fulfill are your own.

    Grief and loss are woven in to the fabric of life, but fear is optional. Thank you for this post, Lisa.

  5. Kate,
    Change your opening premise concerning “the one guaranteed ride on this beautiful planet” to one that included your openness to reincarnation. The rest of the article could change from “doing” to “becoming”.

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