Over the weekend, I went to my niece’s seventh birthday party. As always, it was a theme and this year’s theme was Halloween. The kids were dressed up in costume and so were a couple of adults (I went as a Hogwarts alumni). There was even a haunted house, put together with boards, tarp, and a lot of ingenuity. My niece and her friends had a blast and the homemade cake looked just as good as a professionally done cake.
As I watched the children play, eat, and get scared silly, my mind flew back to my own childhood. At my niece’s age, I didn’t think beyond the next game, the next book, or the next meal. I wasn’t aware of the hardships surrounding work, money, and food, the little dramas swirling around me. I did know I lived in something of a troubled household but I learned how to block it out and create my own fantasy world. As I got older, I began to look farther ahead to avoid looking at some of the pain and ugliness around me. I began to plan. However, it wasn’t any further than college. Life beyond college was misty and indistinct. I had the silly supposition that everything would just slide into place upon graduation.
Looking back now, I’m startled at the number of years that have passed and how few of my expectations have actually been fulfilled. I always knew life was going to be hard. I never knew that it would be as hard as it is. I always knew there would be disappointment. I never knew there would be this much. Having your expectations blown apart can dampen even the most resilient optimist. Getting so caught up in all that bad, I feel as if there is so much of it that I have missed, so many good things.
I wonder where my life has gone. How could I have let all those years blithely slip by while I looked to the future, to the horizon beyond the next goal? How could I not have savored more moments? How could I focus on so much dark at times that I missed out entirely on the light?
One of my sharpest childhood memories is of eating a piece of butterscotch candy, slowly, letting it melt in my mouth, while my father bush hogged outside, yelling for my brother and me to run out and help him. I was blatantly disobeying my father so I could savor a piece of candy. My naughtiness made the moment all the sweeter because it was forbidden. Another memory is of sitting in the large, raised door of our barn, watching late summer sunlight fill up the meadow as the sun edged toward the horizon. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful meadow. Weedy and full of thorns, it took on a mysterious beauty beneath that golden light.
But there are black spots in-between. Details muddied or missing altogether. People’s faces and names that I cannot recall so easily or so clearly as I once did. Because of all the tragedy in my life, sometimes I feel much older than I actually am. I think about all that I could have missed, all the beautiful moments, and I feel bereft.
I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’ve started to tend toward impatience. I don’t want to be dealing with a job I don’t especially like or interacting with obstinate people or even wrestling with a difficult computer program or Internet connection. There’s too much to live and experience. Twenty-eight years of my life has already passed. I am not promised tomorrow. Why on earth would I want to waste another day, another moment?
The children at that birthday party were too busy living life to bother to splice it down and parse it out. They were too busy enjoying candy, cake, and ice cream to think about the calories or how much it all cost. I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle where one casts aside all concern. As an adult, I have to consider things like money and obligation. But I shouldn’t let those things rob me of the enjoyment of the moment. Though I do believe there is a life beyond this one, I know we were given an earthly life for a reason, and one of those reasons is to live it.
I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and ask myself, “Where has my life gone?” Because if I cannot answer that question, how can I expect to live well the life that could be handed to me beyond this earth?