Today I caught most of the Keira Knightly , Steve Carrell end of days dramady as the token distraction entertainment on a short flight. While the movie itself isn’t Oscar-worthy or even new in its themes, the concept of “what would you do – and what would you regret – if the world had three weeks left of existence” is one that we all should try to answers throughout our lives when there is no likely cause of pending extinction.
The film (which I haven’t seen the ending to) poses a variety of potential scenarios for the end of days, with some rioting, others committing suicide by jumping off buildings or hiring an assassin to get them when they least expect it, and many more leaving the person they were with for many years just because or trying to find a lost love all while connecting with the people in our lives that way may see on a regular basis that otherwise you’d never even say hi to.
It happens that on this flight I was en route to visit my 80-something year old grandmother who has squandered away her life savings due to gambling addiction and pushed away her family due to her judgmental, self-righteous personality. I’ve visited her before, when she lived in a retirement community, where she didn’t seem to have many friends, but at least had the freedom to leave the community to play her piano gigs around the city and go to the casino. I haven’t yet seen her in her new “home,” the small assisted living establishment, which will undoubtedly be a depressing sight. She’s fortunate her social security covers this housing arrangement, as the next best options are certainly a steep drop off of whatever life quality she’s experiencing today. I’m told she also has dementia, slipping in and out of today and many years ago, not sure if she’s 60 or 80, alone or with others, dying tomorrow or still young and with many good years ahead of her.
The other day, I read an article that quoted a survey on when people think one becomes an “adult.” The average answer was 28. In less than a month now I’ll be 29. And I’m definitely feeling the transition between my youth and adulthood. It’s crazy to think that if I make it to 100 I’ve lived more than a quarter of my life, but less than half. Of course, the world could end tomorrow, or my world could, and it may be I’ve lived 99% of it. But even with 72 years left, perhaps 50 of them being in decent health and with the majority of my friends and loved ones still alive, I wonder how different reality is from any given doomsday scenario.
An article came out a while back about how Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg finally got the courage to announce that she leaves work at 5pm everyday to spend time with family. That led to a bunch of comments about how she can leave at 5pm because the many people who work under her stay late to finish the projects that she likely assigns. The article notes that while people in their 20s may enjoy the idea of working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you get to a point in your life where this “work-life” balance thing becomes important. Yea, it’s about the time you become an “adult.” 28-30 or so. This is also the time you’re less likely to take risks, less likely to start your first company, less likely to appreciate change.
I’m torn between a thirst for adventure and uncertainty and the status quo. Massive anxiety fills my veins as I face what looks to be a decade coming of marriage, children, motherhood, the true end to whatever youth there is left inside of me. And yet I’ve never been good at “youth” to begin with. With the exception of a few nights of foggy recollection, my life has been relatively tame. I never did move to the big city like I thought I would (which seemed to be the only respectable thing to do after growing up in the suburbs with a stay-at-home mom who went nowhere and a father who commuted an hour into the city each day for work.) Instead, I moved from a city I couldn’t appreciate as a busy, under 21 (and depressed) college student to the suburbs where I’ve been ever since. Granted, these burbs or Silicon Valley are more or less a city in their own right, and job opportunity here for people my age is probably as good or better than the rest of the country, including those big cities.
But as I approach my 30s, I wonder if I’ll have regrets later in life for not putting myself out there more. The number of serious relationships I’ve had I can count on one hand. I could have gone to grad school, but didn’t. I’m somehow writing my story one sentence at a time, and miraculously the pages are still turning and the ink hasn’t dried up. It seems as though death is no longer something that happens at the end of one’s life, but instead of a multi-stage process, a life of death and rebirth, everyday, every moment as you grow older you change, and suddenly you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror or the hint of a reflection in a store window when you least expect it, and you won’t recognize who you see. Something in your eyes will confirm that the person you’re looking at is indeed the same person peering out of your mind, but the rest will seem like a mirage, until you accept it.
Everyone goes through the process of aging, but I’m not sure I’m strong enough to face it head on without some serious distraction. Isn’t that what life is – just a distraction to help us get from birth to death and produce offspring? Everything – from our jobs to our religion to our sports teams are distractions from the greatest horror story of all, our own existence. Eating is wonderful and shelter is ideal, but everything else is icing on the cake of distraction to prevent us from accepting that we are in the midst of an extremely drawn-out doomsday scenario. Yes, we will die. And yes, one day the entire world as we know it will come to an end. Lights out. And perhaps life will show up again in some other form or the same form, who knows. But all of the political fights – on either side of the equation – are just yet another distraction to keep us from focusing on our meaningless existence. If we were to accept that doomsday scenario, how many more people would riot? How many more would jump from the top of buildings? How many would continue to seek true love versus the love they’ve been handed? And then — this makes me appreciate parts of my life much more, especially when I can honestly say that even if the world were ending — tomorrow — or 100 years from now — I’ve found the perfect man for me, and there are plenty of good things in my life. But still, I can’t help but focus on what I might regret, and that distracts me from any chance of contentment.