The Modern life is lived on the timetable.
On a daily basis, our focus falls on moving from point A to B. We climb up the ladder, catch the boat, and race to the head of the pack. We create schedules to shortcut slip ups. Any change in plans is suspect as we are forced to face a whole new set of variables. We are obsessed with laying nest eggs and we are terrified of uncertainty.
The true mark of the modern man is his aversion to risk and his shortage of spontaneity. We set our sights squarely on the end goal: happiness. And sometimes, things do work out. Promotions happen, families are made, homes are filled, retirements are secured. Things go as planned and suddenly we realize that there is no such thing as fate.
But then, one day, the test comes back positive. The car crashes. The dog dies. The rain never comes. The home is foreclosed. The marriage splits. The kids grow up. The parents get old. And the world keeps spinning.
When life shows us how untamable it really is, we find ourselves facing that color-coded calendar, wide eyed and stunned.
How did we slip through the cracks?
Instead of accepting the ambiguity of our tomorrows, we like to theorize about them. Most of us live our lives this way, continually concocting scenarios out of our expectations.
And for those that have been bruised by the rough side of life, the timetable can be a threatening thing. Instead of holding out for the hope of happiness, we shutter with every step forward. Some see five-year plans, others only see minefields. For the latter, Tick-Tock can sound like a countdown to the crash.
I’m experienced in this area. Several times I have connected more to the crystal ball than to reality. Many mornings I would find myself paralyzed in bed, thinking if I laid there long enough, I could stop it. I could change my foreseeable future.
But rational thoughts are no competition with the broken record.
I would start to think about my friends getting married, again and again. My siblings having children again and again. The single-bedroom apartments I would rent, again and again. Cold Christmases, again and again. Lonely feelings, again and again. Night after night. Again and again.
It hung over me like a dark cloud and I didn’t see the point in moving through the next chapter. Life had become something to get through.
Thankfully, someone stepped in.
“The future… its just so… out there, you know ? It’s completely theoretical, you have no idea where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing, who you’ll be with, or whether you’ll be with anyone. All you have is right now, right here.”
The truth that took so long to sink in finally provided the peace I was desperate for:
That I am not guaranteed the next five years. The next five days.
Or the next five seconds.
All I have is now.
The rest is theory.
Life is too unpredictable to be lived on the timetable. It’s too precious to be wasted worrying.
And every now then, we get a chance to face down false fears.
Even though I feared they would, my parents didn’t hate me when I came out.
Even though I feared losing my closest friend, she didn’t leave my side.
Even though I feared the loss of my faith, it began to thrive.
Even though I planned to do it, I didn’t and I started living for the first time.
When I finally figured this out, I recalled a line I resonated with in the film Along Came Polly:
It’s not about what happened in the past, or what you think might happen in the future. It’s about the ride, for Christ’s sake. There is no point in going through all this crap, if you’re not going to enjoy the ride. And you know what… when you least expect something great might come along. Something better then you even planned for. –Irving Feffer speaking to the worrywart Rueben.
Stop theorizing, stop scheduling, stop worrying.
And start living.