I rode my bike to the beach last night after a hike up Hogback Mountain that offered a gorgeous, expansive view of Marquette. I brought my notebook to the beach so I could get some writing done, as I was feeling particularly inspired after the day, but first I splashed in the waves a bit and watched the various kinds of living going on along the shore. Near my towel there was an odd construction in the sand the waves hadn’t yet reached, and when I approached I found the most intriguing little village—modest, open-air adobes with stone & driftwood windows and gull feathers posted at the gate. It brought me pleasure, clearly a work of imagination and care, and quickly established its parameters as a relevant metaphor in my life. Bear with me.
This little village was inspired; its creators used the resources available to make something intricate and stimulating, and they set it up as high as they could to be enjoyed for as long as possible. They could’ve used one of those molded tubs that shows you exactly what the shape is going to be so they didn’t have to think about what they were making; they could’ve built it closer to the water because, inevitably, it’s going to wash or blow away at some point; and if we’re following that logic, they could’ve decided against building anything at all because, what’s the point? But instead, they decided to invest their time and energy into something special, even if, ultimately, it’s destined for the same fate as the cookie-cutter shoreline castle that took some kid a grand total of fifteen seconds to make.
This program I’m about to start is only three years, and even though those years spread before me now as fresh, blank things, they already feel short. I’m realizing as I write this that one symptom of getting older is putting the word only before spans of time that used to feel like an eternity—three years was the average time my family was stationed at a base before being reassigned, and those three promised years always represented a new life and home for me. But now, marriages that last less than five years—hell, less than ten—are labeled short. No one looks at a toddler and thinks of the long life it’s lived, the three years it has tucked under its diaper tab. At any rate, my time here, though it’s just beginning, feels so limited in the scheme of things, and part of me is waging an internal battle against falling for all this place has to offer and letting it feel like home when, chances are, I’ll have to go elsewhere for work when I graduate.
In the same way, with each distressing break-up and subsequent foray back into the dating world, I’ve started feeling out my deal-breakers immediately with anyone I’m interested in (undoubtedly, in some clumsy, bumbling fashion) in an attempt to preclude any “fruitless” investments on either of our parts: Are kids a non-negotiable for you? Are you tied to this place? Do you smoke? Are you a Republican? Rate your emotional baggage on a scale of 1-10. Now rate your tolerance of emotional baggage on the same scale. And while I’ve heard this is the way it goes—this is the reality when marriage and careers and children are suddenly on the table for real—I’ve decided I’m not a big fan of letting my deal-breakers checklist have first dibs on the actual human person I’m interested in getting to know, who, like myself, has deeply rooted insecurities, a sense of humor, childhood traumas, and a rich interior life; who surely has plenty to teach and plenty to run away from.
The threads come together for me with this thought: I need to allow myself to make and enjoy something beautiful without any guarantees or timeframes.
Should I not hang pictures because I’ll have to spackle the holes? Should I not plant and tend a garden because I’ll only get to witness a few flowering seasons? Should I look a promising opportunity for intimacy in the eye and say, “No thanks,” because maybe that relationship will end like the others? I think the most dangerous answer we can give when love runs at us with something as precious as a home or a friend or a lover, a second chance or a fresh start, is “What’s the point?”