Every precedent has been set. Everyone told me. Everyone gets it, tells of the time they moved back home after graduation, and stayed one year, two years. This is no surprise. When I spent the whole 3 months of summer in San Diego three years ago, I already experienced it. These things we know.
And still, I didn’t realize until everything I knew would come true came true: I had still been hoping for something different.
I was doing a free trial week at a CrossFit gym last month, practicing my “double-unders.” It’s where you jump rope, but you spin the rope around below your feet two times for each one jump. It’s a matter of form more than ability. Something about the flow, the rhythm, the balance of tension–you can do everything right and still get it wrong. I was getting it wrong.
I can’t remember the trainer’s name now, but he looked like an Addison. Thick, strong calves, long blonde hair, pectorals straight out of a cartoon. He drove a pick-up truck and had a pregnant wife. I was smacking the rope against my shins and the floor, over and over again. Each time I smacked to a halt, I untangled, re-set, and tried again. No emotion. No frustration. No time wasted. Re-set, go in again. Smack. Untangle.
Addison stopped me. “Just hang on a minute, just breathe,” he said. “You really gotta take it easy with this, just totally relax.” Have you ever noticed that there is nothing more agitating than someone telling you to relax? Than someone taking 5 minutes to stop you and insist on your attention, explaining to you how relaxation is so important to getting it right at this moment? Completely regardless of the fact that I know this, that Addison is right, and that it would benefit me to hear his words and take them to heart, he blithely raises my blood pressure to articulate this basic concept I objectively understand in an extra 3,000 words, in several redundant fashions, rife with cliché.
“I feel like what you’re doing right now has the opposite effect of what you want it to,” I tell him. I love when I can be blunt with people and trust that they won’t see it as some great drama. Addison says he’ll be quiet. He sits by the side and pretends to focus on other people lifting and jumping.
I’m focusing on something in the distance, because that’s what they told me to do.
Look at a fixed point, further away, and then keep jumping. It will help, the entire gym tells me, as they root for me to complete one, legitimate double-under.
So I look at this fixed point, and when I falter, I keep looking, and when people talk to me, I keep looking. I don’t expect success, and I don’t expect failure. I mechanically progress without making progress. But I’m not mad about it. My task at hand is focusing on something in the distance.
It doesn’t work. I stop, and let my arms dangle with the jumprope by my side. Grace is jumping to the beat of the music over there, her face flushed pink. The gymnast is happily yelling about something, sitting on the wooden box. People I don’t know but who have a community are doing stupid things like stepping on and off of tires, and picking up pieces of metal. And I take a breath in. Why am I any less a part of this than I am of the nothing I had done all day?
“I DID IT!” I yell with uncomfortable shrillness. Nobody saw, but Addison is psyched and comes over to high-five me anyway. I make some stupid jokes about how happy I am that reveal how insecure I’m feeling. I go back to jumping.
Within another 6 tries, I do it again.
“I SAW IT THAT TIME!” Addison yells before I can announce my second victory ever, it feels like. “Hell yeah,” the CrossFit-ers say.
Sometimes I don’t know how explicit to be about metaphors, or how thoroughly to explain my observations. Do you see, though? I was focusing on something in the distance, because that’s what they told me to do. I didn’t look at the room I was a part of. I failed, in more ways than one.
In May, I knew things. I knew my self, I knew my friends, my way of life, my strengths, my weaknesses, and how I felt about the world. Where I stood in it. Now, not only do I not know these things, but most times I don’t know that I don’t know them.
And meanwhile, I was expecting this summer to be stagnant–hot and still, vapid of all inspiration, the vacuum of experience between college and whatever comes next.
As it turns out, this is the experience. And it isn’t exceptional.
These things weren’t secrets, but they felt like disappointments. People told me, but I had a hunch that I was better.
But tonight, eating dinner in the backyard like we always used to do in summer, with my Mother, with my Father, with my Jeddo and my uncle, with my aunt and uncle’s wife, and my father’s first cousin, with the persistent yellow jacket and my dog’s woeful eyes, and the velvety red blanket draping Jeddo‘s ancient shoulders–I guess it made sense. All those people who told me to enjoy it, to relax. Who paused, held my shoulder, and said it’s okay. Who longed for time to spend 3 months at home, feeling aimless. This isn’t the vacuum–no, this is life.
Everyone told me, and everyone’s by my side. These things aren’t secrets, but they certainly feel exceptional.
You know, a few months ago, I made a terrible mistake.
Yeah. But I realized something.
And instead of crushing the thought the moment it came I . . .
I let it hang on and . . .
Now I know it to be true. And I’m afraid it’s stuck in my head forever.
– What was the thought?
That these are the best days of our lives. It’s a terrible thing to know, but I know it.
– I don’t know about that.
Well, yeah. Yeah. Maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe you’ll have better days, but I doubt it.
(Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Sturridge in “Pirate Radio”)