My son is now 11. Each of his years has brought with it certain delights and challenges. Of course, when he was young, I kept thinking: When I don’t have to change his diaper anymore, this whole parenting thing will be easier.
So he outgrows diapers but then it means we often find ourselves with about 30 seconds to find a toilet from the time he declares his need to shit and the time of said shit’s arrival. And then I need to wipe his ass.
So I think: when he’s older — say, 10 or 11 — this whole parenting thing will be easier. He’ll be a person, not just a bundle of tasks. Which has certainly proven true. But now that he’s a person and not just a bundle of tasks, he has real person problems — fears, anxieties, considered desires. I wish all I had to do was wipe his ass.
So then I think: I just need to make it until he’s 18 and on his own. Then, oh then, this whole parenting thing will get easier. But then I think of my mother and all the things she’s endured since her three kids left home, most notably, watching one of them die. Holy fuck, this parenting thing never gets easier.
Alas, there are no thresholds in life. There are no points we pass at which time life just gets easier, gets normal, gets sorted out. I know that I’ve imagined that adulthood — whatever that is — would bring a certain calm and continuity. I’d know who I was and what I wanted and how to get it.
But, well, I’m 45 and that’s just not the case. On the contrary, life has only become more complex, more turbulent. Every day, I face the loss of youth and the onslaught of death and decay — mine and those around me. I have to earn my keep to pay for my kid’s needs, the roof over his head, the clothes on his back, the food in his stomach. The humiliations abound.
And with these complexities, anxieties, and humiliations comes flux. Sure, there are stretches of time when I feel calm and composed, sure footed, even wise. And then something happens — I get evicted; the kid starts having nightmares; my girlfriend steps out on me. And, like that, my stretch of calm gives way to vertigo and existential mayhem. I careen. But then, just as I think this careening will never end, a new calm comes over me.
It’s nice to imagine that life has thresholds: if only I get to that point, then everything will be ok. It’s one way we parse the uncertainty and terror of time. All I need to do is make it to there then, then everything will be great! But that’s not the way it is. Life is flux. Yes, there are plateaus but there is no normal, no true, no sure ground. There is no figuring it all out, ever. All there is is the ride, relentless and merciless.
Except perhaps for death. Death sure seems like a threshold, a continuous plateau. Man, I hope so. Can you imagine dying and still not knowing what the fuck is going on? Sartre nailed it: hell is eternal life.
Of course, this is one reason many profess the power of now, of meditation, of being mindful of the present, of what’s happening. To try to throw an anchor either forward or backward is to throw yourself off kilter. Ah, but to focus on the now, to be present with what’s happening, is to avoid the trapping of threshold thinking and its inevitable letdowns.
But this doesn’t eliminate the flux! The flux happens no matter what. You can be the wisest sage in the world, calm and cool and collected, but you’re still in the flurry, fray, and flux of it all. But rather than being surprised and disappointed, rather than skipping the now as you await some illusory threshold in the future, you welcome everything and anything else that comes your way — from getting laid to getting cancer. Because you know there’s no there there. You know that your plateau is temporary and, like everything else, will give way.
A friend of mine calls this seeing through — seeing through the plateau to the flux around and below and through it. Seeing through the flux and mayhem to see that it’s all flux — including yourself. This means not fixing your eyes too hard and sure but letting them see through the facades of certainty and uncertainty to glimpse the beautiful flux of it all.