I didn’t publish last week, I apologize. I was caught up in celebrating my girlfriend’s life and accomplishments with my family, and some of hers.
My schedule is back on track now. Enjoy, today. We get nothing else.
You know the feeling, the terrible yawning inside of your head, nestled in the back of your skull as you stare at something. A microwave, as your third frozen dinner this week rotates slowly around the turnstile. You know the feeling, staring at your low budget coffee maker drip slowly from the filter and fill up the pot as you stand before it, buttoning your shirt or reviewing emails. You know the feeling of staring, silently, at something. Feeling the expanse of space within your mind growing, distancing you from your own soul, somehow. It is only when the inevitable beep from the microwave timer rings through your dirty, unvacuumed one-bedroom apartment where your girlfriend is sleeping comfortably in your room, that you wake up from your daze. As if struck by a club the wind is knocked from you. Your Zatarain’s steaming in the center of the microwave, and still, as if pulled by a force you can’t comprehend, you still stare. Your mind still expanding and growing. Your eyes unblinking as each droplet of coffee hits the growing pool, you know that it won’t really help wake you up. You haven’t been awake in God knows how long, another cup of coffee, another blackberry Red Bull drink won’t pull you back.
You’ll button your shirt and pour your cup of coffee and in the blink of an eye you’ll be back home again, staring at your microwave, marveling at how tired you seem to be despite not having done anything taxing in days. You’ll write off your eleven-hour work days, you’ll yearn for a weekend at the beach, you’ll question the legitimacy of your coworkers asking you for coverage, so they can go visit their granddaughter. Each one of them are where you are. They go home, they stare at their microwaves, they gaze without passion into the depths of a pint of Squatter’s White IPA, sucking absentmindedly on a dab pen in a bar that is somehow listless and full of life all at once. It will all spiral around, and they will find themselves, just as you will find yourself, standing in your shower, wondering how you got to where you are.
It will come at least, once, if you’re lucky, you will only find yourself there a handful of times. You’ll only watching your paper plate stacked high with chicken nuggets rotate for a few moments amid a lifetime. If you’re really, lucky, you’ll never see yourself in that yawning expanse as you put your best foot forward and push on to the next task. The way your mind stretches in that time. Like the blade of fate is shaving so close to your soul that you can feel the cold shivers of the steel brush against your dreams.
I’ve heard it described by exactly two people, what death feels like. They both said roughly the same thing. A man who wrote a book and a man who wrote a forum post online who described death to the best of their ability. It is funny, that to each of them, death offered the same longing and stretched out yawning that I feel so often, staring at a blank page or a screen, my cursor hovering over the latest time waster I’ve adopted into my life.
They said that death is a bit like reaching the end of a carnival ride. You can feel the giant machine that had been pushing you forward slowing down. The hydraulic arms retracting slightly, aligning you with the take off ramp, but it won’t be your ramp to ascend again. You are getting off, and the slowly rolling coaster cart is pulling you home against your will. You want that ride to take off once more, to shoot through the glistening heights of the steel dragon you’ve spent the last forty years a part of. To feel the falling and the rising. To feel the hands of your best friend gripping your shirt in fear, because they are horrified that despite the ride being carefully groomed and cared for, there is still that sliver of despair that they won’t make it out of the ride alive.
That is the essence of life, no one makes it out of this ride alive.
It is funny to me that these descriptions of death were perfectly in line with the way I feel when I watch my food rotate in the microwave. The way I watch the last puffy piece of cereal dance around my spoon as I trace it across the surface of the milk in an effort to savor just one more bite, in an effort to avoid being wasteful. To, by the grace of God, make breakfast last just a few seconds longer.
If I can make breakfast last just a few seconds longer, perhaps the yawning in my mind will halt. Perhaps the way my mind stretches into infinity will be cut short, every few moments. The handful of moments I spend each day dancing with my last bite of cereal can stretch and stack together, into infinity. If I can spend just a few seconds each day outside of the confined task of eating breakfast, just to dance with my food for a moment, to let my mind be present on the act of chasing down the last anchor shaped marshmallow.
The ravenous desire to find anything in my mind that isn’t a cheap imitation of a better idea that I had come upon days before. The growling hunger inside my heart for defined purpose. The echo, as I call out, screaming with my head inside of a microwave, hoping that someone can hear me over the alarm.
It’s hard to get up some days. It’s hard to pull my shirt across my shoulders, shifting the weight of my world from one spine to another. We have all felt it, that sprawling moment of time just before our alarm sets off. Just before the bell rings. Just before the buzzer sounds. That moment, that we can stretch for just a moment. Five more minutes of sleep, ignoring my alarm, knowing how much it grates on those around me. Holding your students in class for a few more moments, to impart something worthwhile, to show them that this world is brutal and hungry, and we are the perfect mix of savory and sweet. To hold that ball as long as you can, to push the clock into overtime, to try, with all of your purpose for a few moments, to reach for another goal. Whether you’re winning or not doesn’t matter.
What matters, is that you can take those infinite moments, dancing with your cereal, dashing for the end zone, bracing the bars of the thing that locks you in place eternally and screaming at the top of your lungs…
“I am alive today. I am alive in this moment.”
This infinite moment.
It is all we have, some days. Those miniscule moments that flirt with infinity.
Once, a long time ago, a mentor told me that I define my purpose too broadly. That I put my all into everything and have nothing left for myself.
I think about that, while the timer on my microwave counts down. The fifth frozen meal this week spiraling in the center of the box while I wonder how long one could survive within a microwave. I think about the people who have difficulties eating. Those who force themselves to vomit after a meal, who are unsatisfied with who they are or what they look like. I think about the time a friend refused to work her shift because her eyeliner wasn’t even. I think about how frustrating it was to cover that shift, knowing that the staff knew why I covered. It wasn’t a secret. She wasn’t ashamed, to her, she was ugly.
What a horrible thing to be.
Ugly in your own eyes.
Lost, in your own eyes. I think about that as I watch my meal spiral still.
Once, a long time ago, a mentor told me that I paint my life with a broad brush, that I give everything for these projects and these people and save nothing for myself. I argued, as much as I could, but he quickly ended my protest when he told me that purpose isn’t defined by the broad-brush strokes. The large patches of color aren’t what make a painting beautiful. It is the small things. It is the tiny, fine details that seemed to have taken eternity to get just right. I didn’t understand until I saw a painting next.
Each broad color was accented with small strokes of laughter, of joy, of sorrow, of remembrance that these moments can stack together forever…
But will not be infinite.
We are given but one ride to enjoy, and in times where we meet the Yawning of Death, those moments where our mind needs to rest. Where we find ourselves at the cusp of a new day at the same job, doing the same things, seeing the same people, we have all of the power to look up and button our shirt a bit differently. To pick a new pair of jeans. To find some funny socks to wear beneath our slacks.
Those moments, right before the small things end, those are the best places to harvest life.
They last forever, and shouldn’t we be seeking something that will make our memory last forever when we are gone?
Will you be remembered much for staring at a screen, hoping for words to come, or staring at a loved one, hoping for the right thing to say? Will you be remembered for logging every moment in a digital journal, possessing yourself with your own caution, praying that you see a new day?
Or will you be remembered as the one who forced the new day to rise, to burn out every last second of that endless time, to wake the Yawning Death and remind Him…
You have so much further to go.
Don’t worry about the website today. Instead, tell a loved one what I’ve said here. Make sure that you use your infinite moments wisely. We don’t know how to control time, we must be a slave to it until one day, down the road, we become the masters of time and infinity will be always.
Life is not meant to be awful.
Don’t let it be.