Over the last few years I’ve experienced loss in a way that’s felt different. The death of a good friend from my first job. The death of an acquaintance. The death our family dog.
One main difference between these deaths and those I experienced in the past is that these took place in my peer group. Not grandparents or distant memories. People in my circle who I knew and, I imagine, had the same big dreams, aspirations, life plans as I did. And my dog, well. Being there as we put him to sleep, feeling the weight of his body — that was a new reckoning of sorts.
These experiences got me thinking about life, and expectations. The expectations of having a career, having a family, seeing my kids grow up. What they’ve helped me remember is that all of my expectations are just that — what I expect. Me. Not what is given, or written.
Through the wisdom of others, and my own experience – life, I’ve come to learn, has very few actual rules. The communities of which I’ve been a part have done an amazing job of creating structures. Weekdays, zip codes, parking laws, dress codes, titles at work. Structures on structures on structures. And yet in their very essence — they’re just that. A set of human-created ways to tackle this hugely blank thing called existence. A large paper castle floating precariously on an ocean that’s happy to swallow it up at any minute. Or not. Having lived in these structures my entire life, I guess I forgot who put them in place.
For me this knowing is both terrifying, and liberating.
Terrifying in that if life has no rules, it can slip away at any minute, without so much as an inkling. One moment it’s here, another it’s not. No meaning to either mode. No court of law, no presiding judge to sort out the facts and provide an explanation.
Liberating in that wow — what limit is there to what’s possible? I’ve sprouted on this rock floating through a space infinitely bigger than I can imagine. Of what consequence is anything I do? What use is there in worrying about what others think, what boundaries exist, to not carve whatever path through life that I like? The options.
Of course, no matter what path I do carve, at the end of the day I do live within a social system with well-defined rules. Some of which, if broken, can lead to a pretty uncomfortable day-to-day. But within that frame, and even outside it (what if we changed the rules?) there’s that endless sea of possibility. That blank canvas to be explored. And what better tribute to those who passed too soon, than to explore it with abandon.