Reflections on life
Life is interesting… and too damn short.
When I wrote most of this post I was off the grid on an Eastern Sierra trip. I had started writing on day 4 of the trip. On day 5, I had a cell signal for a short time and got word of the deaths of a colleague’s wife — someone about my age — and another colleague’s husband. I was standing on a mountaintop with a vast panorama all around me, when the news came through.
If you are going to learn of someone’s death, I suppose there are worse places to be than surrounded by nature. At over 9,000 feet, surrounded by ancient mountains and trees, the insignificance of our individual lives in the scheme of the universe is pretty apparent.* But our lives are significant to us and those we encounter — some even for just a moment. Even on this trip, I encountered people whose memory will stay with me.
I have had many friends and colleagues die over the last few years — almost all of them dying young by most standards — and those deaths have had a profound impact on me. Some helped pull me out of my post-divorce depression and led me to focus more on me. And they led me to realize I needed to spend more time living in the present, rather than just focusing on my future. I started checking things off my bucket lists and decided to go back to school with certain goals in mind. And this moment was no different — at another turning point in my life, it made me stop and think.
My friend and I stayed in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park’s high country. We drove separately (for logistical reasons), which had the pleasant side benefit of giving me plenty of “me” time and space. It was time when I was free to go at my own pace and do whatever I felt. I could crank up my eclectic iTunes playlist and just drive. My time was mine, with no one to answer to (although I enjoyed texting with someone when I would stop for a break).
The last time I was in Tuolumne Meadows (a decade ago), I was one day removed from a breakup that hit me hard. Hindsight being 20/20, it probably shouldn’t have impacted me that significantly. But I was blindsided and my heart recklessly opens itself too wide to people. He would later tell me that he chose the timing because he knew I was going on vacation and he thought I would be able to take my mind off things. But that’s the thing up here — it’s pretty off the grid and it’s really easy to get lost in your thoughts. My memories of that trip aren’t great. I was absolutely miserable and I regret that I made things unpleasant for my aunt (who I was traveling with) because I was in a funk and pretty unmotivated to do anything. And dining in Tuolumne is at communal tables, so I’m sure there are others who were impacted by my mood.
This trip was better for me, albeit very different. Things happened, as if the universe was sending a sign that things in my life are moving in the right direction, tho now I have had to reconsider the meaning I imputed to them. There were dragonflies, in particular, and a butterfly that came out of nowhere and landed near me for a moment before flitting away. Both have long symbolic histories across cultures — the dragonfly of courage, strength, and happiness and the butterfly of transformation and change. I took them as signs of what was, but perhaps they were actually harbingers of what was to come.
The first afternoon in Tuolumne, I was along the river bank with not another person around. As I turned to go back up the bank, I caught sight of a mother deer and her fawn, grazing less maybe 50 feet away. She looked up and saw me, we shared a momentary acknowledgment as if she recognized I wasn’t a threat, then she went back to what she was doing. I didn’t have time to pull out my longer zoom, so I zoomed my lens to it’s max and shot a few photos. Then they moved on out of sight.
I climbed back up the bank, crossed the bridge, and started up the trail when I saw the deer cross the river and then cross the trail in front of me, just as close. There was still not another human around. I fired off a series of photos as the pair crossed the trail and then went off out of sight.
Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but I felt that moment was special. It was something all mine — just me and the deer — with not a single other person having shared it. It felt like it was a message, of sorts, from the universe. The deer is seen as a messenger and a symbol of harmony, happiness, peace and longevity, particularly in Buddhist tradition, and it felt like a message.
But, while the message was mine alone, I had a feeling that I actually wanted to share it with someone — not a stranger, not my friend, but a partner. I’ve had those feelings with increasing frequency and intensity, especially in my travels. Perhaps therein lied the message?
I enjoy being single, particularly the freedom it affords. But, sometimes I do find myself missing having someone in my life, like in moments such as the one down by the river. I thought these were signs that maybe the timing was right to find someone. I thought it could be a sign that maybe I was on the right track with the person I was texting during my trip.
But my first foray back into dating convinces me otherwise — that maybe the timing isn’t right and that I still need to focus more on myself. As I mentioned, my heart is reckless — I wear it on my sleeve and it opens itself too widely, even when my brain screams for restraint. Whatever the relationship — whether trusted colleague, friend, or a possible romance — once I let my outer barriers down for someone, my heart takes that as an invitation to fully welcome and embrace them. I don’t trust easily, but when I do it is with little reservation. For this reason, I maintain few truly close friendships. I also don’t date much and I try to maintain some emotional distance for as long as possible when I do. But I slipped this time and found in someone a degree of familiarity and comfort that caused me to let my guard down early. My reckless heart took the opportunity to run amok as my logical brain made a futile effort to restrain it. As is typically the case my heart found itself battered and bruised from its escapade, with many wounds it might have avoided had my brain prevailed.
Which brings me back to my earlier comment — life is interesting and short. There was a time when I thought I had my future planned out, with certain goals and even plans for the future. But planning rarely leads where you think it will. I spent 3 years planning around a single goal, only to have someone else’s actions destroy everything I had been working toward. Ultimately, interests change, opportunities change, people come in and out of your life.
Maybe my future won’t be what I “planned” but I’ll roll with it and embrace it because life is short and we need to make the most of the time we have.
* A couple of my tattoos reflect this concept, one in particular. On one shoulder I have a dragonfly surrounded by fallen cherry blossoms, being carried by the flowing water. In Japanese literature, cherry blossoms reflect the impermanence of life and beauty — the blossoms are beautiful in bloom, but they only last a few days until they fall. The dragonfly is symbolic of courage, strength, and happiness. On the other shoulder, I have a frog — symbolic of returns — and maple leaves, another symbol of time passing.