In most lives, there is a path that runs parallel to the one on which we span the time between our entry and our exit from life’s stage.
We usually sense its presence late at night, when alone, and everyone else sleeps. Or returning from work, nerve-ends frayed, and vitality sapped. We often see it through the kitchen window as we stand at the sink, dealing with another pile of soiled dishes and glasses, and wonder:
“Is this it? What am I doing with my life? How much time do I have left?
There is a Russian word that best describes this sentiment:
Toska: At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, a yearning.
Such simmering unease usually signals a call from the path of true purpose, demanding to feel the decisive steps of our most authentic and creative selves.
Most ignore the call. The signals are often fuzzy, the path looks treacherous, steep, and shrouded in uncertainty. So we choose to remain in place, wrapped inside our familiar, predictable, and safe cocoons, and thus never become butterflies. We remain, like Rilke said, “inside the dishes and in the glasses“.
Over time, like a failed telemarketer working the night shift, the Universe gives up, and stops calling.
Not in my case.
I seem to have been assigned the most indefatigable, willful, and creatively-destructive operator on staff – the new hire, the one with the quirky accent, always fresh and stoked, working the longest hours, the most grueling shifts.
When he first dialed my number, I was eighteen, sitting next to my father inside the stately, oak-paneled opulence of the Edwardian Room at New York’s Plaza Hotel having eggs Benedict for breakfast, mesmerized by the glitter of diamonds and gold, kindled by the overhead chandeliers. Too young anyway to understand his language, and no wise mentor to turn to; no Yoda, Obi-Wan, Professor Dumbledore, or Mr. Miyagi to translate the – often – ambiguous message. Preening, cock-sure, and materialistic too, so I ignored his call.
For years he persisted, progressively growing more impatient, but I kept hanging up. At thirty I began to sense what he was selling, and wanted it.
He had watched me as a young boy, reading and writing stories atop an old avocado tree, feeling my delight as the hours passed unnoticed, and wanted to return to me the gift of wonder, curiosity, and imagination I then had.
He wanted me to return to the tree.
But my hands were busy building a business empire. No time for climbing trees, reading books, gawking at sunsets, whiling away astonished by beauty, or for writing stories.
Eventually he got pissed, and six years later, kicked my sandcastle really hard. Left the empire and my identity in ruins, the feisty bugger.
With four mouths to feed, I thought I had no choice but to forever remain a grub. But I always hoped for one last chance; that he’d call again.
The final call came when I was about to turn fifty-five.
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