A ticket to the show
What we get is a ticket to the show. We know when it starts, but when the final curtain falls is a mystery.
My close friends have heard me tell this story. I did not get to grow up with a kindly old grandma who fed me home baked cookies and warmly embraced me. My maternal grandmother died long before I was born, and my father’s mother was, well, she was what she was. Let’s just leave it at that.
I am, however, eternally grateful to her for introducing me to the theater and to fine art. I am pretty sure that had she not brought me out to see plays, musicals, the ballet and even opera that I would have no experience of those things in my life, and if she hadn’t taught me how to look at a painting when in a museum I know my life would be poorer for it. Call that the abundant silver lining in a pretty dark cloud.
She also said that line about getting a ticket to the show up top to me when I think I was 9 or 10. The context was over dinner prior to seeing some musical, in which she felt it necessary to tell me she’d invited me along because one of my cousins had been rude to her. That was her way of saying that she’d wanted company she enjoyed to share the experience of the performance with.
I’m not sure about the wisdom of telling a 9 year old that you’re making choices about who you spend your time with based on your own sense of your mortality. I do know that those words and the context she provided them in have had a lasting impact on my life.
Think about it for a moment. You’re here. That means you got the ticket to the show. The curtain has gone up on your life, but you have no way of knowing when it will come down. Steve Kamb over at Nerd Fitness wrote about this topic this week in his usual way, and reading his blog made me think about this blog of my own that I’ve been writing in my head for months.
Steve’s post was inspired by the loss of a friend at a young age. I’m older than Steve, by enough that what he’s recently experienced is actually starting to become a little common for me – people who are my age, people who I went to grade school and high school with, dying. The first friend I had die unexpectedly happened when I was 17. We’d known each other since 4th grade and he died under very odd and uncertain circumstances and it frightened the hell out of me. Up until that point, in spite of having survived a couple of serious medical problems I really had no concept of my own mortality. Having a peer be dead at 17 shook me up… a lot.
It’s different when you’re in your late 40s and one of your peers dies. You think, damn, that’s too young, but it’s not so young that you’re surprised by it, which is strange. It’s strange because it’s not at all uncommon for people to live into their 90s now. So someone who checks out at 50 is someone who actually has left almost a whole lifetime on the table.
Shouldn’t that be just as upsetting as someone who we lose at 25 or 30?
The obvious thing to ask yourself is, if today were my last day, would that be ok? I’m not talking about the impact on your friends and family if something were to happen to you. I’m talking about you, given the opportunity to look at where you are right now, how you’ve spent your time and what you’ve done with your life, would it be ok?
When I ask myself that question I get a mixed answer. On one hand, yeah. I’ve gotten to do some incredible things. I’ve seen amazing places. I’ve helped bring a new person into the world who I adore and know will make the planet a better place than it was before she showed up. I’m regularly stunned by the quality of the people who let me call them my friends. I’ve even gotten to do some work that was semi-meaningful.
But on the other hand, I wasted my youth horribly by being fearful and cowardly. I squandered energy and time waiting for someone else to solve my problems (or at least what I perceived to be problems), and I took dreadful care of my body for way too long. I allowed a short temper to damage and destroy relationships and cared way too much about getting people to agree with my way of seeing ultimately trivial things.
It’s not that I have regrets. It’s that I want more time in which to do things right. I’m not ready for the curtain.
More than anything, I wish that I could find a way to get other people my age to realize that you don’t have to give up. The show is not over until it is over. If it’s broken in your life, fix it. If it’s really broken, fix a piece of it at least. Improvement is improvement. Don’t let wanting perfection stop you from getting to better than it is now.