A Journal of My Mid-Life Crisis
5 October 1997 - The Birthday of the World, The Death of a Friend
While most of the world starts their year in January, for me the year logically begins in September. First of all, my birthday is at the beginning of September. And then I spent so many years in school, that the academic year seems more natural to me than the calendar year. And, finally, being Jewish makes Rosh Hashanah another new year. Of course, this year, it actually fell out late - October 2nd and 3rd - but now I feel the year is complete. (I should also note that work related years are in the fall also. Our performance reviews run 1 September through 30 August and our fiscal year follows the federal fiscal year, which starts 1 October.)
With all this newness, a death at this time of year is particularly jarring. So it made it all the harder when I got Audrey's email that Peter Rydell passed away on Thursday morning. I guess that an intellectual level, I knew it was a matter of time, but it seems to have happened so quickly since the cancer came back. I can't imagine how Katy is coping. Of the couples I've known, they always seemed one of the few that really exemplified John Donne's "true marriage of minds". It's not just how they shared interests - he told me when we first met that he wasn't really a storyteller, he came to hear and support Katy - but they complimented one another. I know other couples I think of the same way but it's comparatively rare.
So, as I spent the weekend on things I had to do, writing a sympathy note was added to the list. In some ways, this was an easy one to write, in the sense that I had things to say. Peter was, for me, one of the people who made Community Storytellers a community. He was probably about the 3rd person there I met and I know he was the first one to compliment me on a story I told. I think it was also important to me that there was someone there who understood the other world I live in - he was a researcher at Rand and his degree was in math, so he was less caught up in dividing the world into science and arts. (Not that many of my storytelling friends do make that division. I think it's more the people I work with who think I'm weird.) And he had this great sense of humor, even after he got sick. I can't write about that without writing about his Bandanna story and I feel weird about writing down a personal story another person told so you have to trust me on this. If I think of stories he told, most of what I remember are a lot of "engineer, mathematician, scientist" jokes. It's easier for me to remember him as the enthusiastic and supportive audience he was. The world has lost a lot with the death of this kind, warm, witty man.
Rosh Hashanah is a fitting time to be introspective. Where are the lessons from death? One of the things that I like about Judaism is that it isn't so focused on death. The emphasis is much more on how to live than on scares about eternal torment. I used to think I'd either die young and tragically or I'd live forever. It's too late for the former and I know the latter is impossible. So the best I can do is try to do the things that are important to me. The hard part is figuring out what those things are. I've wrestled a lot with trying to sort out what I want from what I think I'm supposed to want. But at some level, it still bothers me that I don't want the things I'm supposed to. Money, for example - I'm not indifferent to it, but I care about it more in the sense of what it enables me to do, than for its own sake. I wouldn't work 20% more hours for even twice the pay. Success? I prefer to define it as doing the things that satisfy me, regardless of money or prestige. Marriage? At 39 never having been married starts seeming odd to people, and it's easy to dismiss it by saying the offers I've had weren't from people I would have married. I used to joke about how all my ex-boyfriends married the very next person they dated, but I realize now that means I've somehow managed to meet a lot of men who were looking primarily for marriage and, when they saw I wasn't, they moved on to find what they needed. I'd probably get married if I found someone I thought I really could spend the rest of my life with, but I'd have to feel sure. Most people seem to just marry whoever they're seeing when they decide it's the right time for them. Either that, or they are looking more for children and marriage is just a part of the equation. I'd want to feel like the relationship was one that would continue to grow.
So what do I want? Challenge, growth, exploration. I want to be surrounded by good friends, good books, laughter and music and conversations that flow from one subject to another but never sink to malicious gossip. I want to feel equally at home everywhere I go. I want to create things that will last and inspire other people to use their imaginations. And most of all, I want to feel secure that I am making good decisions about what to do, to get past the conventional shoulds and just feel that I'm right, that I know what's right for me.
Did I actually do anything this week? I came up with an issue at work that was actually fun to think about, having to do with the implications of emerging technology. I managed not to strangle a guy (not from my company) who I have to work with who I think is a total schlep. I didn't even make snide comments about having given him all this information and made the same suggestions that he is now proclaiming as his own ideas six months ago. And,on the home front, I managed to buy rubber boots - something I need for my upcoming cruise to Antarctica. The smallest ones I could get were a couple of sizes too big but I guess I can just wear several pairs ofsocks with them. For $15 I'm willing to stuff something in the toes, too. The checkout clerk asked me if I was getting ready for El Nino and I could tell that when I said "no, I'm going to Antarctica" he thought I was being a wiseass.
Copyright 1997 Miriam H. Nadel
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