Credulity

Last night, after Matthew had been put to bed, Emily came downstairs to put his milk back in the fridge. I had just finished with the dishes and a few odds and ends in the basement and was at first confused when she asked if I’d gone outside. No, I told her, I’d been at the kitchen sink and down in the laundry room and, why, what’s up? Emily replied that she knew, i.e. had a clear memory of, turning the light above the back steps off, but it was turned on again. There is no other switch. Only one explanation, I said; it must be the ghost.

I was only half-joking. A few years ago, we had returned home from a weekend away to find a lone shoe square in the middle of the guest bedroom floor. It was one of Emily’s, and not one that was in the standard rotation. The shoe was not there when we left. I know this because I’m like a goldfish; I will expand to fill any space that’s available to me. When there are no guests, the guest room becomes my walk in closet, walk in hamper, and horizontal clothes-lay-out area. I’m in there a lot. I would have noticed the shoe. Moreover, its match was found under the bed inside one of those low-profile Tupperware bins that hadn’t been pulled out in years. I couldn’t explain it then, and still can’t today. I’m not saying my house is haunted. That would be silly. But maybe I am saying I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it is.

When I was younger, if you were feeling generous you’d call me credulous. My sister and my cousins called me gullible. And they were right. I could be made to believe lots of things (ok, fine, everything) because I wanted to believe. I was drawn to those ideas, those realities that were bigger, more nebulous, and harder to understand. Those things that make you feel like you’re circling around a greater truth and are close, maddeningly so, to breaking through.

That credulousness was nurtured by my cousin Jo, seven years my senior, but always willing to let me jump in her car and race off to see if we could find the Snallygaster, the Snarly Yow, the black dog, the phantom hitchhiker, the spirits of Antietam or Gettysburg, or the soldiers who would roll your car up hill like they rolled their cannons in the 1860’s. We never found any of those, but along the way I did have a couple of experiences that I still can’t explain and, rationally, I’m sure were fueled by my –ahem- credulousness. In Zittlestown, I could see the alleged blood stain that can be cleaned off but will always reappear. I felt cold, and dizzy, and out of sorts the whole time I was in that house. In Sharpsburg, I looked through the back window of a 19th-century house and could picture, as clear as day, a woman in period dress looking out and looking terrified. It was only later I learned that the occupant of the house, a mother, had stood watch at those windows during the Battle of Antietam, fearful that the violence would find its way to her doorstep.

Is any of that true, objectively speaking? My back porch light, the shoe with a mind of its own, Western Maryland’s cryptids, spooks, haunts, and specters? Who knows. Probably not. But we create our realities, don’t we? The meaning we find in the world is that which we give it, right? If that’s the case, then I think I’d like to go right on being a person of credulity. I think the recipe to my well being includes a sense of wonder, a desire to connect to larger truths, and the excitement needed to figure it all out.

Humans are drawn to the unknown, to those things that we can’t fully explain. Gullible or no, credulous or skeptical, it’s what makes us explorers.

It’s one of the things that makes me, me.

81% Totality

When you work in facilities management, you have access to all the cool, out of the way parts of your buildings. For Eclipse2017™, many of my coworkers gathered on the roof. We have picnic tables up there, and some camp chairs, and a hammock, so despite the constant noise of the air handlers, it’s actually a pretty cool place to spend time. We have occasional celebrations on the roof and it’s been a good place to view the crowds generated by the Cubs and/or Blackhawk parades, the massive protest du jour, or to watch the planes practice for the annual air show.

So, anyway, 18 floors above Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago we had a front row seat to an almost-total eclipse (81%, to be precise). Most of us had eclipse glasses, some brought their lunches, and someone’s phone had the NASA eclipse playlist going. It was one of those too-rare moments of non-mandatory, non-coerced, organic bonding and morale boosting.

For me, though, the most interesting part of the eclipse didn’t happen between the moon and the sun. It was what was happening on the ground.

At one point, just around the time of peak coverage, i took off my glasses and looked out from the rooftop. Taking in the almost 180° vista, I could see from Randolph Street on the north all the way down to the Museum Campus on the south, a distance of about a mile and a half. And, what did I see? People, thousands of them, facing south and turning their eyes toward the heavens. They were on sidewalks and in parks. They were on double decker buses and in boats. I could see in buildings and on balconies. Everyone, seemingly, took a moment from a hot, muggy, busy Monday to stop what they were doing. And face the light.

We are so divided these days. We are a non-compromising, polarized mess. I honestly don’t know what to do about that. I struggle with whether it’s my job to fight that division or whether all I can do is raise the best son I know how. But sometimes it’s nice to see reminders that we can still have shared experiences. That we can still have common interests. That, even if it’s something simple and relatively meaningless, we can still go through the same things together and feel all the closer for it.

Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors feared that which they didn’t understand. Something like an eclipse was seen as an ill omen. Today I’ll choose to believe the opposite. Having no greater claim on certainty than my stone age forbearers, for me Eclipse2017™ will be a sign that we are ready to move past our divisions. That, as one, we are soon to face the same direction and look toward the sky.

 

Forty

There are things in life that you think will have a big effect on you or be of great importance, but end up mattering very little. When you’re a kid, the world is full of them: monsters under the bed, what your parents are fixing you for dinner, what colors are your favorite. As you grow up a little bit, the labels on these weighty matters of great import change, but the underlying self-importance that colors them does not. Gone are monsters and in their place are SAT scores, whether that person likes me or likes-likes me, and any number of strong, deeply held opinions on the Star Wars prequels. If you have a kid, you’re exposed to a whole new dimension: breast or bottle, cry-it-out or not, home care or day care?

We go through life wrapping ourselves in these questions, these opinions, that are honestly and passionately held – sometimes for very good reasons – that we think will define us and be the crux on which we pivot.

And often (usually?), they do not.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve gotten to see quite a few friends and family approach and pass the great milestone of turning 40, most of them with grace and charm. Seeing this, and being suitably impressed with my own grace, charm, and emotional control, I lumped the big 4-0 in with all those things that seem like they matter but really don’t. I assured myself that I wouldn’t be sucked in to the cliche of feeling old or over the hill. That 40 is just another number and would feel no different than 39, 38, or any of the ones that came before. I knew that it wasn’t something that needed to be a big deal and that I’d likely sneer at it as my birthday passed me by.

Well, that birthday is tomorrow. I’m down to the last hours of my 30’s. And I am freaking the f*ck out.

We’re told our whole life that 40 is old, aren’t we? It’s the punchline of jokes. We see black party hats, streamers, balloons, and yard signs all emblazoned with giant white numbers, like a taunt. Forty-year-olds are who high schoolers mock and roll their eyes at. At my first job out of college my boss was thirty, which I remember thinking was “old”, and he was a full decade younger than I am today.

I think my problem is that I’m having a hard time de-identifying myself with being a thirty-something. Thirtysomething is a great age to be. Old enough to have learned poise, tact and professionalism, but young enough to be hip, flexible, and capable of reinventing yourself if you need to. Thirtysomethings are still in many ways explorers out on a ship at sea. Eventually, all explorers need to bring the ship in to the shore, find a quiet piece of land, and build a cabin. I feel like someone (me? society? the man?) is telling me I need to do that now. I don’t feel ready.

So, for now, I’ll do the only thing I can. Wrap myself in a warm blanket of friends and family wishing me well and telling me that 40 is one of those things that is no big deal and ultimately doesn’t matter. And maybe I’ll even believe them.

But I’m not done with being an explorer just yet. I’m not content to retire to my cabin and turn my back on the sea. There are things to learn – about the world and myself – and so much good work to do before I’m done. So if I’m going to let myself feel like 40 matters, I’m going to make it matter in the best way I know how. This is the year I commit myself to blending together poise, tact, professionalism, capability, flexibility, and the vigor of youth. I will focus that on doing not what-you’re-supposed-to-do-as-you-get-old, but on the things that I want to do. The things that inspire me. The things that make me feel young.

If I ever do get old, I want it to be with my hand on the tiller and with salt spray on my face.

Onward.