My younger sister and I were commiserating the other day about how life seems to be getting increasingly difficult and depressing as time marches on. Though our respective strengths and staminas have developed over the years in the face of new challenges and allowed us both to cope fairly successfully, life has inevitably lost some of its sparkle as the harshness of reality has become more and more tangible.
There is so much lost in the process of growing up: the security and safety and companionship of family, freedom from financial responsibility and worry, the black-and-white simplicity of a childish worldview…
Perhaps the most painful thing, at an underlying level, is the loss of possibility. Like an embryonic stem cell that may yet differentiate into a nerve, blood, intestinal, or ANY cell type of the body – you possess as a child the potential for everything. When you are a kid, EVERYTHING is possible. You can have infinite plans for your life – marriage and children, traveling the world, writing a book, dancing, exploring outer space, curing cancer, doing something about world hunger…in the future these things are not mutually exclusive. In your imagination and dreaming, they can all live simultaneously. You can be and do everything you’ve ever wanted to.
But in real time, sadly, you must make choices. In choosing one path, you must leave others untravelled…and there is no going back. Time keeps moving forward. Once a stem cell is dedicated as, say, muscle, it loses its pluripotency. A muscle cell is what it must be for life. And it is the same with us.
And that is hard.
As time drops away behind us, dreams and possibilities do too. As much as we like to tell ourselves that we are free to go and do and be anything we want to, at any time, the truth is that we can’t. At the age of almost-thirty, my becoming, say, a professional dancer is no longer in the cards. It’s just not going to happen.
So, as I sit here at another crossroads in my life, trying to decide in which direction to head career-wise, it is making me think hard about what I really want to be doing…and what I am giving up in choosing that thing. And it makes me a little anxious and sad.
On the other hand, that is just a part of life; that we must define ourselves and actually embrace something – ONE thing – fully and completely is a part of the beauty and bittersweetness of it all. We must choose our color and become one real, bright thread in the tapestry of life…and learn how to find joy in whatever role we adopt and whatever place we land.
Because, as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill, and no life path is perfect.
Karl Barth, an early 20th century theologian, once said, “Joy in this world is always in spite of something. It is a defiant ‘nevertheless’ against all bitterness, resentment and despair.”
And I think that is true.
I look at my grandparents who are nearing the end of their lives, and find that they are some of the the most patient, loving, grateful, happy, and content people I know.
So maybe having your story all written isn’t really a bad thing. Maybe there is peace in knowing who and what you are, and how it all works out, and learning to embrace it.
Maybe the loss of pluripotency – of infinite possibility in all its overwhelmingness – isn’t so sucky after all.