At the age of 37 she realized she would never…

May 29, 2013

Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young. My Dad’s interest in space and science fiction must have influenced this dream. He was an enthusiast to the core, a paying member of the NASA club. Where other kids’ houses had family photographs, we had high quality images of Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and the whole blue-green Earth from space. To hear my Dad talk about space was to hear him talk about the future, about God in a way.

It was Dad who recommended I read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a book admittedly I didn’t finish. Maybe that’s because I got as far as I was supposed to go. I remember a passage in the novel where one of the characters takes off in his jet early in the morning for training. He looks down at the world and sees all the people going to work, going about the monotony of life, and he’s above it, has escaped that particular reality. I must have been ten or eleven at the most when I read that. I’d had enough mornings off to school at the same time with no real raison d’etre to understand the longing for something more. This astronaut in training seemed to get it.

I recently told Dad about the power of that scene in the book and how it reached in and grabbed me at such a young age, made that longing inside me real and lucid. He replied saying that made absolute sense, because space and science fiction and astronauts and flying—all of this is really a spiritual quest. It’s about getting up above, out and beyond, the quest to understand, to touch the source. I get the attraction. And maybe I should blame that damn novel for the tumultuous path on which I find myself.

I’ve always been good at figuring out what I don’t want; easy enough when it’s the tedium of existence that grates at your nerves. To avoid boredom I started out early charging through the walls of dullness without a plan. The Dixie Chicks’ song Wide Open Spaces was my theme, blaring all the while in the background as I recklessly eloped to avoid ever marrying into the bourgeois society my private school college represented. The Dixie Chicks sang louder when a year later I divorced and then let my teaching certificate lapse so I would never be tempted to go back into the stifling public school classroom for the sake of stability, god damned stability. When I consciously chose a partner who didn’t want kids, Wide Open Spaces applauded the freedom. And let’s not even talk about how I ended up in France.

Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dream no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes

She traveled this road as a child
Wide eyed and grinning, she never tired
But now she won’t be coming back with the rest
If these are life’s lessons, she’ll take this test …
–Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces

This winter I celebrated my 38th birthday. The world still feels wide but the test has been more rigorous than I ever could have dreamed. After all my charging ahead and stubbornness, do I have the right now to say it’s hard?

Wouldn’t kiss all the asses they told me to
No I, I could never follow
It’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down.
And I’m gettin’ it back on the road now.
But I’m takin’ the long way
Taking the long way around.
–Dixie Chicks, The Long Way Around

Do you even ever make it around? I don’t know anymore what I once dreamed. I don’t think I ever imagined myself at this age, bewildered by the shortness of life and all the things I’m now realizing I’ll never get to do before I die. Am I allowed to change my theme song? Do I have the right to claim the Ballad of Lucy Jordan even though I didn’t stay married , have children and settle down?

My heart wants to feel the blessing of life, this life, but some other part of me feels abused, worn out, ungrateful. It’s times like these that I like to close my eyes and imagine the blue-purple twilight  horizon high above the earth I saw once from an airplane window. There’s peace to be found, I know it. If I could only touch it.


7 Responses to “At the age of 37 she realized she would never…”

  1. Here is a quote that I love: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
    Teddy Rooselvelt

    Carlson McCullers went off to Julliard to study music, and quit, apparently feeling like she failed, but she was a artist that had not found her voice or arena yet. She then went on to be one of the great authors of the 20th century. The artist, and we are all artists, must live and experience what is is to be human, and face our fears and doubts with humility and then with arrogance communicate what she/he finds.

    Keep writing. Or as Natalie Goldberg says, shut up and write.

    I love you.

    You better practice: I’m counting on you to help me with my memoir!

    PS It is a biography of the astronauts–That means it is real! 🙂

    • Thanks for this Dad. Yes, lusting to travel is my Dad. Roots and wings, how do we manage the balance? Will keep writing. Thanks for the encouragement, continual encouragement.

  2. I am struggling with the same issues. I hope you get it right sooner than I have!

  3. Kate Sevigny said

    You can not only change your theme song, you can change your mind, Sister Hazel – “Change your mind”.

    It takes a goodly sum of courage to share yourself with us. Thanks. Here’s to gentler slopes and warmer breezes.

  4. Alan Coulter said

    Food for thought. You are taking responsibility for you own life, which I admire. I’ve always envisioned you coming from a place of grateful, and yet there is often paradox and doubt, which shake out in the spice of life. I hope to see you in the ‘glades again.

  5. Travis said

    This topic is entirely too serious.

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