"I'm not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." ~ Woody Allen.
|A sketch I did from my art class a couple of weeks ago. I love this pose. She looks so reflective.|
I turned 42 this year, and something unexpected happened. I suddenly realized I don't have forever.
Some might call this a mid-life crisis. I see it as the opposite: a mid-life wake up, like a friendly caffeine jolt. I haven't bought a red convertible or gone for Botox. Instead, I'm just looking at everything with fresh eyes, much as I did in my formative college years, but with the realization that I've got a diminishing time limit.
It was during college, in fact, when I discovered an effective technique for putting things in perspective: visit a graveyard. It sounds like I'm trying to be funny (or morose), but I swear it's quite practical and effective.
The epiphany was accidental. One beautiful fall day, the warm kind that makes every one of your senses burst with wistful nostalgia, a couple of friends suggested doing gravestone rubbings. I'd never done such a thing, but the weather was inviting and I was in the mood to avoid my schoolwork. So off we went, with cheap paper and some lumpy charcoal in hand.
It was an old graveyard, perfect for exploring. We wandered under brilliant foliage -- Amherst trees just have a knack for fall color -- tripping over gnarled old roots which had forced tombstones to splay at odd angles. We read the epitaphs with interest, imagining what the buried occupants had been like. And then I saw a gravestone that changed my life with these spine-tingling words:
Behold, my friend, as you pass by
So you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be
I say prepare to follow me.
That person was alive! And now they ... weren't? When you take some time to ponder that, it gets a little freaky. And, as they suggested, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I would, indeed, follow them. Someday I will not be alive. Not be alive! Do you ever just think on that? It's such an incomprehensible idea. It should be simple, but it's like we can't accept that there will be an end to all our drama. Regardless of your thoughts on the existence of an afterlife, it can make your mind spin in dizzy circles.
After that day, I found my sense of perspective changed. When difficulties arose and I had to make what seemed like a hard decision, I'd pack a snack and visit a graveyard to reestablish some common sense. (During the day, of course. I'm no fool.) The solutions always became very obvious once I sat among the greying stones. "What would the deathbed-me advise the college-me?" I would muse. Ends up, deathbed-me's advice never steered me wrong. She always pushed me in the direction of taking the risk. I'd never heard of anyone lament during their last moments, "Oh man, I wish I had been more cautious."
So I learned to be brave. Maybe not rollercoaster-brave, but tell-the-boy-you-like-him-brave. Apply-to-that-study-abroad-program-even-though-you-have-no-money-brave. Did I make an arse of myself on occasion? You bet. But I never regretted putting myself out there. I knew that I would regret the what-ifs. Those kind of regrets have always scared me. I never wanted wallow in what-ifs during my last moments on earth.
Ends up, though, the boy eventually liked me back and we spent two wonderful semesters together. And I found some hefty scholarships that made a year abroad eating French bread a reality. And if I professed my crush to a boy and it wasn't reciprocated? Well, I wouldn't have to always wonder if he'd been the one. He wasn't. Next! (And to save you the suspense, I found him. He was worth the wait.)
See? It's a very practical strategy.
As we get older, we sometimes forget these earlier lessons, and I'm no exception. I've found myself becoming more cautious as the years passed. Until I hit 42. And then the college-me knocked on the door and said, "Um. Is it just me, or are things getting a little, I don't know, safe?"
College-me and deathbed-me now hang out around here in a helpful way. And I'm looking at things in a new/old perspective. For example, where will my rekindled love of art lead? I haven't a clue. And I don't care, really. I just love drawing. Goals no longer feel important as they once did. The process, as so many have noted before, seems to be the real gold.
I notice that writing is playing a bigger and bigger role in my life, and I'm not sure where that is going either. But I want to make more room for it, because it somehow just feels right.
This month, I've been going through my possessions and realizing that I don't use most of what I have. And I'm learning to let go of those things. And when I do, I feel my life open up a bit more to who I'm becoming.
That sounds all fancy-pants ethereal, but I'm not sure how else to describe it. This is clear, though: you've got to clear the spiderwebby things out if you want good things to come.
Gotta love a graveyard.
|Five minute sketches. I love these because they force you to just go quickly and not get mired in the detail.|
|A longer one. There is something so relaxing about drawing these calm poses.|