I haven’t been posting much in recent months.
Things have been hard. Much stress, much fatigue. Much worry. Much guilt.
There are good moments and bad moments. Recently, there have been a lot of bad moments. I suppose I’m having a good moment, which is why I am posting. In the bad moments, I am coming to realize, I no longer post. Because my bad moments aren’t angry now like they were when I was 23. They’re just bad.
— § —
I’ve never been one to enjoy hand-to-hand combat with life.
I like hand-to-hand combat with little problems. Practical problems. Computer code. Car engines. Watch movements.
But life? Death? Familial relationships? I don’t like doing hand-to-hand combat with these things. Some people thrive on it. I don’t. I don’t like making decisions upon which the entire world seems to depend. I don’t like having the responsibility.
Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with it, but it’s not something that I’ve yet grown into. I hope that someday I do. I often recently think that if I’d had more training with responsibility as a young person—if my parents had believed in giving allowances so that kids could budget, or allowed me to play team sports, or if I’d joined the Marines or become a police officer—I’d be in a very different place in life.
But that’s not what happened. My entire childhood and youth were about being protected from taking responsibility for things. In my twenties, nobody would give me a serious job. Typical at the entry level, but it meant that nothing in particular hung on what I did.
I became an academic for twenty years. Academics is that place where you make pronouncements on all of the world’s Most Serious Topics but do so in such a way and with such a small audience that there are no consequences for any of it. Anything you do or say or think is entirely irrelevant to anyone but yourself and the people in the room with you.
It’s a way to feel important without being of any importance. A scam of a sort, if in some ways a noble one.
— § —
Now, I’m an ex-husband. A father. A critical supporter of two households. The owner of multiple pets, one of whom is very old and dying. I’m director at a startup. I routinely communicate with large audiences, and with wealthy, important individuals.
I guess this is the natural course of things, but now at nearly 43 it feels as though everything I do matters. Not just matters a little bit, but matters a lot. Everything that I do has consequences.
Lives and fortunes depend on me and the decisions that I make and the things that I do.
And it’s all new to me. I’m encountering this importance and this sense of responsibility for the first time now, in middle age. I don’t feel prepared. I wish I’d been better trained for it. I wish I’d been hardened and disciplined for it.
I used to laugh at military folk. Now I envy them. I envy the fact that they were taught to stiffen their upper lip and to make perfect hospital corners and to wake up at 4:00 am on-the-dot and to run for twenty miles at a pop, rain or shine, even when lungs are burning and legs are going to give out. I envy the fact that they were told, over and over again, that the lives of others would depend on them.
They’ve spent years having to think about all of this stuff, to learn how to do what needs to be done not just when life is smooth, but when what needs to be done is impossible.
I feel like an amateur. And I’m not emotionally ready. Nonetheless, here I am.
— § —
Navigating a marriage and a family to an end while trying to preserve the emotional health of loving children. Trying to survive financial armageddon and reach some sort of equilibrium—still not yet found. Trying to make good decisions, launch good initiatives, lead good teams, and help companies to survive so that co-workers have jobs to feed their families. Helping innocent souls to find their way toward a peaceful end, even when infirm and suffering.
These are the major components of my life over the last four years. I wasn’t ready for the responsibility, and I’m still not, but here I am living through it. Making decisions. Sometimes the right ones. Sometimes the wrong ones. Sometimes I just can’t tell.
I’m tired of mattering so much.
— § —
My emotional constitution is such that when the going gets tough, I go on autopilot. Not because my autopilot is better necessarily, but because otherwise I will be unable to cope. I’ll retreat. And when you matter, there’s no retreat.
You’ve got to try your best to do what needs to be done. Turn off your feelings so that you don’t let everything you’re holding come crashing down. And take your lumps and keep on moving when you make bad decisions. There’s no time for guilt or regret now. That will have to wait until later.
When, exactly? Later adulthood? I’m already 42. Retirement? Death?
— § —
All of this sounds very petty. Let’s be honest, it is. Generations ago, 17- and 18-year-olds flew halfway around the world and stood under the open skies of hell in trenches, eating bugs and effluence in storms of bullets, bombs, and body parts as their closest friends were torn apart beside them.
Then, they came all the way back and found ways to lead lives, live, love, and die. What have I done? Nothing. I have no grounds for complaint.
— § —
So here I sit nursing a dying dog. Trying to figure out how to think about my ex-wife’s urging that we try things again and how I ought to weigh the too-broad range of potential benefits and consequences for everyone involved. Wondering how I’m going to ever retire, or even catch up to my finances.
Wondering how it all would have been different if instead of doing everything I did—college, graduate school, marriage, kids, divorce, pets, bills, etc.—I’d joined the Marines.
— § —
Do I have anything of substance to say?
Yes. Something of substance, and shocking, too. It’s the first time I’ve told anyone, really, apart from two very old friends.
For about a year now, I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming Catholic. At the very least, I have deep regrets about my treatments of—and interactions with—religious folk in years past.
Anyone that has known me for any period of time will be shocked by this admission. I’m shocked myself. I’d never have figured myself to be a believer, and I’m still not sure that I am or ever will be.
But as I get older, I realize more and more that it’s not really about belief at all. It’s more about what’s right and proper and best, as I am beginning to realize is often the case in adult life—in real life. In the lives of the people who have some measure of stewardship for the world.
No, it’s not really about feelings or belief at all. Nothing important is.
Call me late to understanding in things that matter.