So, I was blathering on about the virtues of accomplishing goals, big and small, and also continuing a life-long path of learning a la Michaelangelo's now infamous quote, "Ancora imparo," or "Still, I learn..." though he was in his eighties when he was recorded as having said that very line! I had a great, albeit long-winded, point: We, all of us humans, can stand to be more like Michaelangelo in this way--why stop learning, at any point in your life? I just spoke with a very lovely lady, 67 years old. She told me that she started to play piano--for the first time in her life--just a few months ago. She never knew she'd had a talent for music but her piano teacher has her playing complex tunes that people with multiple years of lessons can't yet play. Incredible! I'm striving for the same learning curve as I continue to age in my mortality. At close to forty, I will be continuing this education-journey in fall. I will be learning totally new, different things--completely outside of my areas of expertise. And I can't lie, it scares me a bit. I feel "too old" to be doing this in some ways--that's just what our 67-year old piano player told me about herself, too. She dared not tell anyone she was playing piano lest she fail. When I was 20-something and vigorously going after my education, failure was an impossibility in my mind. Almost 20 years later, I am practically paralyzed by the fear that I might, indeed, fail--and what that would mean to the people in my life...the important ones, and the not so important ones.
I heard my guy talking to a family member tonight--based on his end of the convo, the family member was asking if I'd heard back yet about law school for fall. Mind you, I just applied one month ago. And, it is a big point of contention, too. Because, law school is like med school--you have to apply all over the country in hopes of getting even one acceptance letter, unless you live in a major city like Boston or NYC. You can't cross the street in either town without tripping over a law school.
I heard my guy making excuses rather than cutting off the derision at the pass, like he should have. He was basically apologizing for my applying to law school, as if I'd committed some sort of crime. The fact that his family is circling me like a bunch of hungry sharks, waiting for me to fail, didn't go unnoticed on my end. He must be in agreement with their skepticism. And THAT may be why our long relationship is coming to an end. I am his family, but only AFTER everyone else. He has already told me that if I don't get into a "local" law school--which doesn't exist, the closest law school in either direction is a three-hour round trip car ride--that he will not even consider moving. The support is overwhelming. Yeah, I'm not good at sarcasm. Twenty years ago, there may have been similar convos amongst he and his family members, but the difference is, I wouldn't have cared. Today, I do.
I can't say what exactly happens to individuals as they age; perhaps it has to do with a lack of elasticity in our physical brains, a changing of brain chemical-levels, or just the weight of decades of experience. What I do know is that I began to recognize this change around age 35--a year of many and great personal epiphanies. Having been, shall we say, fearless, I found the change rather jarring. All of a sudden, I seemed to question things I never gave a second thought to. It persists to this day. Thankfully, my resolve has always been hardened by my imminent mortality. Cancer can do that--disability, too.
I wrote a piece several years ago that was published in Brevity first, then Survivor's Review. In the essay, I talk about "have-to's." Pragmatism, again. In a way, it's very closely linked to Buddhism, a kind of acceptance of suffering and impermanence with a conscious decision to keep moving forward anyway. I'm terrified of what's waiting for me in fall. Professors with egos (ahem), the cache of unnecessary-necessary books, the latent apathy and hipocrisy evident at all levels of academia...yes, my concerns are manifold. And of course, amidst these excuses, is the crux of it all: Failure. Mine, to be specific.
If only Susan B. Anthony were correct in her "Failure in impossible," sentiment. But of course, she was, and is. How could a woman in the 19th century succeed when she didn't even have the right to vote? How could she have kept going? Wasn't she scared, too? Of course she was. We know this because of her infamous "Failure is impossible" quote. It's an affirmation, spoken aloud more for her own benefit than the benefit of others.
My hope here is to RELAY and ALLAY that these fears, these indecisive notions, are part of that life-long learning, part of the journey we must ALL make as humans. I used to feel very sure that being human was some kind of ultimate punishment, like we were trapped in these temporal forms for crimes against the universe. But staring up at Mars the other night, I had the distinct feeling that this human condition of ours is safer than what lies ahead; that being confined to temporal bodies is a good thing--reliable, comfortable, and with great potential for total and complete contentment.
It all comes down to RISK. We have to risk failure in order to succeed. Some of the greatest successes in our brief history on this planet have come from failures. As a cancer patient, you risk yourself in participating in the treatments; you don't HAVE TO take chemo or go through radiation or surgery--you do it because you are willing to take the risk. And why would you do something like that? It's scary; it's difficult. It may not be the right decision. But those fears don't matter because, though you do not HAVE TO go through the treatments, you do HAVE TO move forward.
Have you recognized this yet in your own life? The "have-to's"? When you do, it's the moment you'll become more comfortable with the concepts of fate and destiny; it's the moment you'll start to think, "maybe there is a God, afterall..."--why? Because it's also the moment you realize it's just YOU out there; you may be surrounded by family and friends but they really can't do much for you other than offer limited emotional support. YOU are your own compass, your own rock, and, your own hard place.
I'm still scared I will fail in my next learning task. I'm scared because I know I'm on my own. However, having gotten (maybe too) comfortable with reality, I also feel a solid, stolid resolve that this is a HAVE TO moment. I may be on my own in my success or failure but if I have to be alone with somebody, I'm glad it's me. Egos aside, I kick serious ass. I've been broken so many times--physically, emotionally and more recently, mentally--that if I were a china doll, I'd be irreparable--smashed to dust. Pulverized. Yet here I sit--whole again, and again, and again, ad infinitum. I've seen people break from less and stay broken. I've been broken many times, but in as many times as I've been broken, I've also put myself back together. And there's nothing different or special about me--I mean the me before all the breaking started. I'm not a genius; I'm not a hero. I'm as average as anyone can be. Average height, average brown hair, average brown eyes, average build, average, well, everything. But what's not average is my courage. Courage, by the way, means that you do what is needed despite your fears. That's a conscious decision. A decision anyone conscious can make. So make it! Keep learning! You're on a journey...failure, success--those are less important in the face of the overall journey than in those moments in and of themselves. YOU are more important.
Make your goals, move forward--regardless of your fears--and you WILL be successful. It's fate. It's your destiny. And in some small way, so am I.
Until next time....