A very strange thing about being in the middle place of a life is the discovery that all the teenage decisions are coming into my hands again. The issues feel familiar.
It's much like hearing the voice of an actor I can almost recognize, and not being able to remember where I saw the actor before. This is a pretty common conversation at our house, actually. "Where have I seen him (or her) before? What was he in?" And, since it's generally true that almost everyone in this family is better than I am at remembering which actor is which, my question is generally answered by whoever else is in the room at the time. (And generally quickly - it's maddening, but I have to ask.)
So maybe it doesn't happen again for everyone. Maybe other people can remember where their other voices once were heard, and maybe they don't have to come around again to answer the questions again and again, in each season of their lives. But apparently I have to.
Here's one. Are the complainers and naysayers and worriers and doom addicts right about the world? Is it really worse than it was in the old days? Do we really have to suspect the bad before we can accept the good? Do constant warnings to "be careful" and "watch out" and "protect yourself" really set a body up for a good life?
I was almost convinced of it when I was younger. I thought the Fearing Folk knew something I didn't know. But they're just afraid - they're not wise. So I gave up on them and their silly bonging of doom, doom, doom. I decided to be happy.
The thing is, though, crap happens. And if you grow up and move away and go to college and get married and have kids and then the kids grow up and move away (none married yet, but this isn't complicated - I think I can figure out what's next) ... well, a lot of crap happens.
So I find myself trying to remember where I've heard this voice before. The voice is in my own head, so no one else in the living room can give me any help with this one. The voice is the youthful me, glancing around with an anxious face, trying to see what all those Fearers were seeing. Were they right after all? Is it true?
Should I have exerted more control over things along the way?
(No. In the first place, you couldn't really have had any "control" - you're just not that powerful. And in the second place, trying to do it makes people frantic and worried all the time. Look around. See them? No. More control along the way wouldn't have worked. It's obvious.)
Maybe my kids would be having an easier time of it if we'd been more conventional.
(Right. You've seen that kind of kid after a life of conventional education and conventional (utter lack of) creative input. Conventional movies and music and books and free time experiences. Your kids would've been better off that way? Your kids? Those people? Right. And besides - didn't you marry a man who's pretty much the opposite of conventional just so you wouldn't have to do that? Yes, you did. You decided on this life, and it's turning out pretty well, and you know it.)
Well, they would've fit in more easily if they'd had more practice fitting in.
(Fit in more easily with what? Convention? This would've been better?)
A more conventional life would've given me a more conventional house. I might even have a finished house by now. People do, you know. Foundation and basement and everything. Decor, even.
...The conversation is a lot longer than this, but I'll stop here. I remember this voice. And now I remember the answers. And now I have new answers - or rather, I have the same answers, all grown up.
The doom-and-gloomers were wrong then, and they're wrong now, and it's not silly to be happy or optimistic. But not because crap doesn't happen. It's not silly to be happy or optimistic for the simple reason that crap isn't the only thing that happens. And you know what else crap does? Rots. Composts. Dries out. Blows away. Happiness might be temporary but so's crap. And worrying about its happening doesn't actually make it not happen, so what was the point of that? To be prepared? That would be a great reason if it were true or if it ever happened. But the crap that's happened to me isn't on any list I ever had my hands on. There wasn't any way to be prepared for that stuff. It just happens. And then it stops happening. Or ... other stuff happens too. (Or you die. I guess that's the other option here.)
So, after all these years, even if it's still instant conversation success to talk to people about stuff that's gone wrong or will go wrong or used to be better back in the good old days or anything else that sounds all "wise" and cautious and knowing about the world - even though people still love, love, love to talk about how they "can't because" - it's still just as silly to go through life that way as it would be to stand by the potty all day to scrub and clean and beware just in case crap happened. There really is more to life than that.
I wonder if this conversation will sound different in my head when I'm eighty.