half life


Sitting at my desk, dreaming about surfing, even though I don’t yet know how to surf, is no way to live. I spent last Sunday at the beach, body-surfing with my son in the ocean. Waves came in, we caught them, and glided or sometimes tumbled toward the shore. We grazed our knees on the sand. The saltwater crusted my hair into a clumpy mess. But we laughed and felt exhilarated, refreshed, alive. A simple pleasure, yet one I can’t remember doing in a long, long time. Children can do this for you, give you this gift. This experience gave me the crazy idea that I would learn how to surf. Yes, I would have to overcome my double-barreled fears of drowning and sharks, but maybe this would be a way to finally do something brave. Something that I wouldn’t talk myself out of before I even began. Maybe I’d even grow my hair long and tell my boss to shove it. All my life, I’ve played it safe. My therapist tells me life is a balancing act between security and freedom. The more security we possess, the less freedom we have. I’m not talking politics here. This is personal. A man reaches a point in his life when he wonders if he is moving closer to his dreams or moving further away from them. Like travelling to or from an island by ferry. There’s a point when you’re leaving the bay, when you see the harbor recede, and you’re fooled into thinking that you’re actually just arriving. The longer a man does something for employment, the less qualified he becomes to do anything else. I’ve been working in bookstores for almost thirty years. If bookstores disappear, you’ll probably find me stocking shelves at the grocery store or mowing some rich guys’ lawn. I’m not cut out for much more than that. Yes, I write but I’ve never made a dime. I had adventures when I was younger but now I have children who I love and cherish but who bring out my practical side to the exclusion of all my other sides. If I were to leave my safe job and pursue something absolutely crazy, like becoming a surfer or a writer or an island innkeeper, my children and wife would suffer. We’d be poorer that we are now. But, perhaps we would be free. Less security, more freedom. At almost forty-six years old, I don’t want to wait for retirement (what a horrible, horrible word) to finally start living. Yes, of course I am living now, appreciating each day and trying to show my children the wonders of the world around them, to always keep their minds open and exercise their creativity. We jump off rope swings and dive into quarries and skip rocks in the river and eat ice cream for dinner and make beaded bracelets and use too much hot glue and leave dishes in the sink too long so that the fruit flies start buzzing. We don’t always use as much sunscreen as we should and our yogurt isn’t always organic. In short, we live. Yes, of course we do. But. Always the but. There must be more. There must be a way to live in a way that’s never been lived, to do things no one else has done. Yes, people do this all the time. They pack up their kids, sell all they own and live lives of vagabonds and gypsies. What’s the worst that can happen? they ask themselves. Starvation, sickness, death? Big deal. We’ve got this rock face to climb, this ocean to swim in. These are the dreams of a desk jockey, a man in a basement, a man who is starting to petrify a little bit, who needs the safety of health insurance but wants to jump out of mythical airplanes instead. To see what the inside of a half-pipe really looks like. I took the photo you see above from the ferry that we take every year out to our favorite island in the bay. Those are the hills of Maine in the distance. Using the filter on my smartphone’s camera, I tried for nostalgia, but instead when I look at this I can’t help feeling just the slightest pang of dread. Am I coming closer to the shore, and my dreams, or moving farther away, never to realize them, whatever they might be? I’m at the midpoint, the half-life of my life. Going forward? Going back? Right now, there’s no way to tell.



  1. Patience

    I think we all long for the freedom of “jumping out of mythical airplanes.” It takes bravery, of the kind many of us lack, to actually take that leap. I like my health insurance and my security, but I long to swim in that far-away ocean and float on those freeing waves.

  2. j.h. white

    One essential discipline I was continually learning in the pursuit of freedom within the responsible world of family was “momentum”. It seems a fragile thing when we are being pulled along by circumstance. I courted it, learning my own parameters and how to keep my own fires lit no matter my energy or what was going on around me. I chose something humble that didn’t take from our meager finances. And I chose something physical that added something to the family.
    Activities I could work on anytime, with different steps in the process…have a few going at one time and you can pick it up anywhere in the process even if you are dog tired or numb and get into it. Then it would take me…
    My kids are all grown and through some kind of magical osmosis have incorporated these skills into their own lives. I have my own time now and I can share with you an absolute personal truth….it’s a good thing I didn’t wait to figure this out. xxoo

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