A hard rain fell on New York City today. It was one of those more memorable rains where even if you’re not out in the thick of it, the way it’s just lapping at the windows in intermittent sheets has everyone staring outdoors like they’ve never seen rain before.
Maybe, too, it’s the way the buildings of the city make for a new skyscape when the sun don’t shine. Steel-and-glass, layer-on-layer in shades of grey, and everything ceases to be the City and just becomes a kind of nothingness as Manhattan gets covered in this ancient foggy mystery.
I like days like this. They fuel some kind of introspection, though I’m not sure why.
In the office, we celebrated the birthday of a colleague who’d played a one-time minor character in the original Star Trek for which she still receives significant fan mail. There was the usual banter: plans for the weekend, chats about upcoming trips, memories about staffers who have long-gone or thoughts about potential new hires. Plans, choices, transitions. Our own crossroads may not always seem too frequent, but we’re nevertheless surrounded by evolving lives. The ebb-and-flow and natural changes we face are as numerous as the grid of streets you can cross trekking from the West Village to Harlem.
I imagine sometimes a character in a film who has died and is able to walk back through life with an archangel or something. They stop at different moments over the course of the character’s life, turning points with key decisions where they might say, “This was pivotal in a special way,” or even more simply, “The first time you heard this song, danced this dance, laughed to this joke, etc. changed the very nature of your being or altered your trajectory without you even knowing that was happening.” Your saddest moment, contemplatively reviewed. Your happiest, on regular replay. The most loved you’d ever felt, your biggest mistake over the course of your life all there on display like it’s one big Instagram story. Or a high school superlatives list but as a recollection of your life and the people in it.
The average American male will live approximately 76.1 years or 27,777 days.
I’ve lived 12,790 days so far leaving me with about 14,987 days to go.
That’s about 46% of my life lived at only a little over 35 years old.
I’m 972 days away from having lived half my life.
More than that, of the days I have remaining, about 239,792 hours of that will be spent awake, assuming I get eight hours of sleep a night (overly generous but maybe I’ll make up for today’s shorter nights in older age).
To put that all another way, in the remaining years I have on this silly blue rock, I’ll be asleep for 4,996 days of it and awake for 9,991.
So that’s it: I get about ten thousand days left to make life somehow “worth it.” To make the right decisions and the right transitions. And at this point in my life, I’m not sure what “worth it” means exactly and fear sometimes that we may not ever really have a definitive answer to that question.
Of course, admittedly, I could live well beyond 76 years with more time to figure it all out. With technology being what it is, I could live to, say, 125 which would mean instead of 54% of my life left to live, I’ve got 72% to go and haven’t even lived a full third yet. If humans reach singularity within my lifetime, some “I” could be uploaded to a computer and “exist” infinitely. From an atomic perspective, I suppose you could argue some essence of me will exist infinitely anyway – stretching out to the stars, just another fragment of carbon tryin’ to get by in the world.
Or, I could die on the train ride home tomorrow. Or in 5,000 days. And not even come close to the average human life lived to its fullest.
It’s that short time span – even with the possibility of the longer version – that seems to be why we try so hard to leave a mark, to write a legacy with our names remembered by some gift given or some good deed gone noticed.
Some people’s lives are boiled down to twenty hard years of remarkable and impactful work. Some people’s lives are boiled down to fifteen-minutes of fame. Sometimes that fifteen-minutes doesn’t even come until after they’re long-gone. Then, there’s the chance a five-minute mistake or bad choice can account for a nearly immeasurable fraction of a life yet consume the rest of it with endless ramifications steeped in shame. Five minutes of good fortune or redemptive love can have the same effect. Whole religions popped up around what someone did with three years of a life. And some of us are perfectly content to spend, literally, a third of our own working or staring at a screen or watching television.
And maybe that’s all okay. We weren’t exactly handed these answers from on high despite our faithful latching onto the best-educated guesses we could make given the few thousands of years of communal wisdom imparted our way. Working for a non-profit, stuck in “do-goodery” world, I suppose I’m a little impartial to the notion that – for now, for my life – “worth” should be derived from some mix of loving others and loving myself, though I’m pretty bad at both those things and know working for some social good that there’s always something even a little selfish to our attempted selflessness. And those things aren’t by any means unique to a career in non-profits.
When it comes to meaning-making, people will measure the “worthfulness” of their lives by varying standards, so for the ten thousand or so days I have left, it’s hard to know what – before I “waste” (or bring harm to) another moment – I would consider wasteful or harmful in the end. Sometimes, you just need to be on the couch or in front of the television or staring out the window at the rain doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes those are the most important days oddly enough. Because if today was my end and not ten thousand from now, would I really be horrified that I’d spent half my life staring into a computer screen? A third of it sitting? Too much of it sleeping? Clearly a large chunk of it writing stream-of-consciousness for the world to read?
“No one ever told us we would have to study our lives,” that perhaps the greatest challenge wasn’t living it so much as it was reflecting over it so we could set right what we got wrong, work out the kinks and knots, the refusals to even so much as glance at the mirror. No one said that “living” life would really be about mulling it over with whole heart and whole mind together. No one said we’d have to come to terms with what is there in that mirror and accept it with gentleness. It occurs to me that we don’t actually make meaning by what we do, our careers or even our daily, mundane choices (even if they add up or add to meaning), but rather our worth is derived somehow in hindsight. Loving for the future is somehow so much easier than loving in the present or in spite of the past. Though the skill we have with the latter makes the former possible.
And, you know, I’d settle in earnest – perhaps the only thing I’d truly “settle” for: one good flash of a moment out of nearly thirty thousand days to recompense and redeem them all. To love the future as equally as the past and to love it all ferociously because it’s my one gifted life to live. I’m just looking for where to start and hoping that “the days of God are longer.”
Tomorrow, they’re calling for a sunny New York City day. The first in what seems like forever. I’ll do the living that I can, probably messing it up here and there, and then when it rains again, maybe take some more time to think it over, replay it, and then do what little I can to make something meaningful out of it. Sometimes the best we can do is pretty damn good even if it ain’t necessarily all that great. For today, that’s good enough.