I was interviewing for TSA precheck status. Sitting on a folding chair in the airport at 8:00 am in the morning, I was feeling proud for following through on what had seemed like a good idea for years. I expressed this self satisfaction by being aggressively good natured. I joked about my absence of felonies and my inability to use the fingerprint reader. The administrator was stoic, impervious to my hilarious quips. Toward the end, in her same deadpan demeanor, she asked if my email address would be valid in five years. My smile faded. My life passed before my eyes. Five years. I would be into the next decade of my life. I would be almost to a senior discount. Would I be working? Would I be living in the same place? Would I be the same person? Would I be using the same email address? There, staring at a facial recognition camera, with an uninterested companion, I had an existential crisis. You better use this other one I said quietly, suddenly serious.
The future. It has always been the bright shining horizon that I was hurtling towards, leaning forward, eyes on the prize. I am the poster child for “it gets better.” I was an awkward, strange, stuttering, insecure girl who has grown into a slightly less awkward, still strange and stuttering, but more confident woman. Years have brought acceptance, insight, better hair products. But lately my relationship with the future has become uncertain. I may be reaching a point where I am at the edge of what I can imagine, beyond which here be dragons. Old dragons. I find myself looking around at my current context with a different lens. Today is feeling more meaningful than hazy tomorrow.
The day after my precheck interview, I helped a friend make pillows from her father’s clothing. He had passed unexpectedly and the family was devastated. We worked together on these small tokens, to make her memory tangible, to support her in her grief. Her father had been exactly three years older than me when he died. Often when we hear stories of premature loss we say, go home and hug your loved ones. Be grateful. Be present. But we don’t or we don’t for long. We forget and get caught up in chaos. Soon we are back to pursuing what combination of events will rescue us into the next phase of our life.
My sons were just accepted into respective graduate school programs. Both have worked very hard on tests and applications, both have tried several other times and were not admitted. They have been pushing to reach this threshold, soon they will start school, and immediately dream of graduation. This will sustain them until one day they will be sitting at a desk, staring out the window, wondering what next? I cheer them on from the sidelines having lived my own version of the same relentless quest: college, marriage, children, career, then the next. The next is deeper, wider, standing still but moving constantly, not necessarily big milestones, but a spooling out of daily life that is mundane and cataclysmic at the same time. There are subsequent chapters, sometimes but not always, of our own design.
This ability to shift through time – past, present, and future – is a human characteristic that we don’t always recognize or appreciate. We can recall a memory of our favorite dinner, prepare for tonight’s dinner, and plan a dinner for next Sunday all while stirring mashed potatoes, our mind and body moving nimbly through the different scenes with perfect clarity. We don’t value this aspect of our imagination until the lines begin to blur. The past and future crystallize into the desire to be young and sharp and forever. Our theology promises this, but the wrinkled eyes and tired body warn us that the reality we may have taken for granted will end, or change, or at least become less sure.
Everyday I weigh myself on a scale. I have done this for all of my adult life. Today the weekend of bagels and pasta carbonara and barley soup have swung the dial higher than usual. There is another essay to be written on body image and external validation, but today I read the measure and don’t feel so bad. Today I have weight and that weight has stories to tell and crafts to finish and spreadsheets to populate and moments to live. I am here. I am now. I can face dragons.
Back at the TSA interview, I gave the other email address and the administrator recorded it. I have options I tell my captive audience, trying to regain my swagger. She looks at me as the faintest smile glimmers across her mouth.