If you choose to accept it
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Faded prayer flags rise on a warm breeze under our deck. They were bright blue, yellow, red and white when my girlfriend and I first hung them there.
That was more than a year ago. In some ways a year is hardly any time at all, and in other ways, like a young relationship, it can be a lifetime.
This morning I sat in a lawn chair and contemplated the human lifespan as I watched the line of flags rise and fall in unison against the backdrop of blue sky and swollen white clouds. The flags’ faded colors reminded me that time is always passing, even while my life seems to stay the same.
Things have certainly changed since Mandi and I moved in together, but change mostly occurs unnoticed.
We plug into our daily lives: Wake up; walk the dog; pack a lunch; go to work; make dinner; plan something for the weekend. Suddenly years have gone by and it’s time to start making real choices: Career? Marriage? Kids? Retirement?
In Ohio, where Mandi is from and where there are notably fewer distractions like skiing, rafting and rock climbing, people generally make those “real choices” in their early 20s. I’m nearly 30.
I have to admit, it is much easier to pretend like I’ll be youthful forever when there’s always an exciting activity to plan around. It’s easier to fill all my thoughts with an upcoming backpack trip and worry about the rest – like the question of if I want kids – later. Always later. I cringe to think that at some point I will have to make a choice in some way.
Out here in playland, I’m not alone in my lifestyle. It seems uncommon to meet people who are younger than 30 who are married and/or have children. When I do, they have usually moved here from somewhere else like the Midwest. For those like me, we rationalize our procrastination on the big, adult decisions by saying, “We’ve got time.”
That’s true to a point. We tend to have better health and fitness in Colorado, thanks to our vigorous outdoor activities, which help keep us physically youthful. To a point. But when does it end? When does a person decide what is most important to make of his limited days, assuming he ever does?
Many of us don’t decide. The decision is made for us when we accidentally get pregnant or something like that (it seems the big questions always circle back to reproduction). That can be OK. It forces us to grow up and adopt some deeper priorities, and I’ve seen some great parents arise from those situations. In other cases, the children grow up without solid guidance, with parents more consumed with themselves, and the children end up more likely to repeat those mistakes.
Some non-decision makers simply end up without kids, which at least is better in terms of population. However, they may find themselves feeling quite alone and bitter near the end, with no investment in humanity.
The idea that scares me the most about having children – besides earning enough money – is that I don’t have nearly enough answers figured out for myself. If I have such little notion about life’s deepest priorities, what would I tell my progeny? Would I raise someone who helps the world or only consumes it?
I’ve heard people say you can’t think too much about kids, that if you think you might want them, just do it and handle the rest as it comes. To me, that seems like another choice made in a lifestyle of indulgence.
How do we break the chain of indulgence? How do we grow up as a society and as a species?
Growing up is a struggle that hurts like a sore back after digging clay all day. It’s something I tend to avoid if I can. Yet work is what it’s going to take to turn this world around.
At least I know this: Even if I don’t have kids, I still have a responsibility to tend the garden of this Earth as best I can.
From my lawn chair under the prayer flags, I can’t help but notice that our garden is untilled and full of weeds. Mandi will most likely get around to it before I do, and that’s why I know she’s a good influence on me. I still have to help her decide what we might grow, however, and she might have as little idea as I do at this point.
Meanwhile, time drifts by and there’s no question that life is good. As I inevitably fade like the flags, though, I do wonder if I’m growing into a weed or something that will bear nourishing, delectable fruit.
That is where humans are unique. We have a choice in what we become, if we choose to accept it.
– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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