Tonight, I’m sitting at my computer, drinking a cup of hot Trader Joe’s “Well Rested” tea (chamomile with accents of mint and lemongrass), listening as Jesse and some friends play music in the living room. They are practicing for a mutual friend’s wedding this month, and the songs are lovely. I can hear the piano, African drums, guitar, mandolin, beautiful singing. I can hear them harmonizing with one another. I can hear the slow, steady music, and I can imagine the bridal party walking in, I can see misty-eyed grandmothers.
And I’m looking through pictures from San Francisco. I can feel that place on my skin still, I can feel the energy–like an electric current at the very edge of me–I can feel the exact rush of awe as I walked along a dirt path and turned a corner and suddenly saw the Golden Gate Bridge in front of me. The shock of red against the blue water and the brown hills.
The tea I’m drinking I bought there. Every night, I’d have a cup of it with organic honey I’d bought at the corner store. I’d sit in the apartment and listen to quiet music and I’d read or I’d write and then I would go to sleep.
I have come to realize that I want impossible things.
I want to live in San Francisco. And I want to live near all my friends. And I want to live near all my family.
And I cannot have what I want, no matter how fervently I want it.
Last night, Jesse and I watched an episode of This American Life. The episode was called “John Smith,” and it told the story of seven people all named John Smith. From birth to death.
The episode was brilliant. (You can read about it here.) There was life, in an hour, in seven people, in a baby named John Smith, in a dying man named John Smith. John Smith wins the science fair. John Smith watches his mother die.
I cried, and after it was over I just went to bed. Jesse and I tried to talk about it a bit, but the emotions it had dredged up were still a little too raw. When you’re a kid, you’re afraid that bad things might happen to you; when you’re an adult, you become aware that bad things will happen to you. It’s just timing. Life is elation and sorrow, and you don’t get to have one without the other. No one gets exempt from pain. My parents will, one day, die, and they will probably die before I do. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life dreading that moment, worrying about it, crying over it before it happens, but that appears to be what I’m going to do.
I don’t know how to deal with my parents’ aging.
So here is the predicament I find myself in, this wanting of the impossible. I want to always have my friends in the living room practicing for a wedding, and I want to have my parents over for dinner without their having to pack a suitcase, and I want to feel what I felt in San Francisco–that aliveness–and I don’t want that to mean I’m a seven-hour flight away from everything else I love. I want to write, and I want to drink tea, and I want to see Seattle, and I want to teach and teach and teach, and I want to preserve everything just like it is right now, and I want everything to change.
In San Francisco, I’d sometimes find myself with an urge to call my parents or Jesse, only to remember the time difference, the fact that they were already in bed. And even if I had nothing important to tell them, I would feel it like a punch. I couldn’t call. They were unreachable, they were very far away, they were asleep and I was not. So I’d drink my tea and listen to my music and sleep fitfully and call the next day and that was fine, and I was fine, but last night I watched a man named John Smith talk about how he used to call his mother every day on his way home from work, and now he finds himself still wanting to call, but then he realizes she’s dead and all he can do is put the phone down and keep driving.
Okay, then, this is life. Sometimes I wonder how any of us can stand it, this living.
But, we do. The John Smiths keep driving.
And maybe one day I’ll know how all this turns out, and I’ll find myself wanting other things, new things, or the same things, or maybe I’ll let go of the wanting and sit where I am, wherever I am, knowing that what I have is what I have, and where I am is where I am, and that is enough, because it has to be, because it is.