Looking forward — looking towards the future — I am reminded by my friends who have children: my life will never be the same, once Daniel is born.
Actually, my life right now hasn’t been the same, ever since my pregnancy advanced into the third trimester. Daniel’s birth becoming imminent, my focus these days in regards to the future has been for Daniel. Turning the guest room into a nursery. Deciding what childbirth classes to take — in person or DVD? Registering for Daniel’s baby shower (which my sister and I did at Target, yesterday evening after dinner). Planning for the baby shower itself (which my brother’s girlfriend has decided to do). Lesson planning in intricate detail for the fall semester for my substitutes when I’m off for six weeks on maternity leave. Deciding on what childcare center will take care of Daniel when I go back to work.
81 days till my due date.
And while other things — the squirrels in my head — are chattering like mad about non-Daniel matters, I’m focusing only on what I can actually control. This little boy in my body, this little boy’s immediate life when he’s born, my own professional life and how to juggle that and parenthood — all other things seem so much out of my control. And I must be satisfied with that, or else I’ll go stark raving mad with too many “If only I could’ve” of the past and “If only things were” of the future. I’m reminded of Epictetus’ “The Enchiridion”:
Some things are in our control, and some are not. Our opinions are within our control, and our choices, our likes and dislikes. In a word, whatever is our own doing. Beyond our control are our bodies, our possessions, reputation, position; in a word, things not our own doings. [….]
Keep in mind death and exile and all other things that appear terrible — especially death — and you will never harbor a low thought nor too eagerly covet anything.
In thinking of death — that at any day, one unexpected medical diagnosis of terminal illness, one unexpected tragic accident or crime is the difference between one’s life and one’s death — one lets go of the past (which can’t be changed) and lets go of the future (which hasn’t happened yet). Intellectually, academically, I know this — but isn’t it hard, isn’t it difficult, to live one’s life like this? For me it is, it has been so.
Like Annie Dillard, I wish I could just be as simple, as in-the-present, as weasels. I blogged about her over two years ago; I’ve taught her in my composition classes. But like her, wishing it and doing it are so very difficult:
I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular–shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?–but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will. [….]
I missed my chance.
But like the old man being hauled away in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!” While we’re still alive, we have second, third, up to the nth degree, chances, if we miss our first chance. As long as we’re still alive, we have another chance to live fully, deeply, passionately, to pursue happiness and — perhaps, perhaps — catching a sliver of it before we die. Of what is in our control. Of what we can actually do and be, and not what we — or others — wish we could do or be.
Our lives are so short, so unfairly short, to waste our remaining time on this earth with what has passed. I’m 35 years old, and, in thinking of Daniel’s first day of school, I’ll be 40 years old when he walks through the doors of his elementary school. I’ll be 53, my life more than halfway over, when he graduates from high school. 70, when Daniel is my age and, perhaps, married with a child of his own. My life and Daniel’s life will become intricately linked — a parent and child. And — God-willing — his life will continue once mine is over and done with, when my chances are finally run out, when like the weasel at its death,
“let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.”
I’m preparing for Daniel. He is a wonderful gift. A chance to be a parent, and, therefore, a chance to be a better person than I have been in the past. A chance for life — Daniel’s.