It’s been a frustrating season. In many ways, what’s happened to me in the last few weeks has brought me a new sense of myself. Like everyone, I walk around as if I know who I am and know what I want to do. But inwardly, I’m lost, poking around in the dark, and wondering if I’m on the right track.
I was just writing today about a man I knew at my first hourly wage job. He was a big man with hands like mitts. But he was gentle and wise. Having been released from the penitentiary a year or so before I met him, he was still trying to find his way. He’d landed a job at the barbeque restaurant, a place that would hire former inmates. After I spent a couple of breaks with him, I couldn’t help but be attracted to his father-like presence.
Even just a year out of lock-up, he knew more about who he was than I ever have about me. I mean, I was just 16 when I met him. He was probably in his mid-20s at the time. But he had direction, which I lacked. For me, life was a lark, a series of days in which one thing led to another. I had that freedom. He didn’t. His life was appointments with the parole officer, placing rent money in an envelope and slipping it under the landlord’s door, and making sure that he kept his car insurance paid.
I envied him. He wanted to ascend the ladder at the restaurant, one day becoming a general manager for one of the locations. All I knew was that I wanted to write but I had the demons of doubt and fear of rejection that would take decades to get around. And, so, for decades, I skated from one thing to another.
In a sense, I built up a good resume for a writer. Many are the subjects of life, I figure, and I’ve had master classes in many of them. There’s still more to learn, more to seek, more experiences to enjoy. But at this time, I’m feeling my age and wondering where it all leads.
Sixty is an age that has weight in social circles and among those who’ve achieved various milestones in what one might regard a well-lived life. It’s something that’s come to my attention more from the people around me than from what I’ve felt. But due to the pressures and influences of others, I’ve taken to mulling over the fact that more is behind than in front.
I was casing mail (sorting loose mail into file dividers in a case that represents a route) a few weeks ago. It came to me that this job is just another in a long line of occupations that reel me from one place to another. This job, delivering mail, may be the last one I have before retirement. But it is still just a job-job. Maybe it is my fate never to feel I’ve had a career, unless writing can be called a career.
Omar, who found pleasure and pride in doing a service for his customers, also had a plan. He wanted a house and a yard, and once he had that, he wanted a dog. Not an attack dog, but a fluffy pooch who would help keep him warm on cold nights. There was something in that. I wished at the time that I could find that. But my direction, if I ever had one, lie over the horizon. Unknown from where I stood and knowable only on arrival at the destination, whatever and wherever that was.
Perhaps, my melancholy comes from a recent injury that has me casing mail all day rather than being out delivering my route. On a Friday about a month ago, I was headed down a terrace I’d descended a hundred times. This time, my feet slid out from under me and I went to catch myself with my right arm. As soon as I hit the grass, a pain shot through my right shoulder and hasn’t abated since.
Doctor appointments, physical therapy sessions, and an MRI later, I find out Monday what damage has been done. In the meantime, I’ve had time to think—unlike when I’m on the route and every minute is taken up with the mail. What does all this lead to? I wonder. I have a job and need it to keep the lights on and the insurance paid. So, I’ll have to stick with it. But what’s the point? This is not to take away from those thousands who live and work a job for decades and find themselves in comfortable retirement. There’s something to that, and it’s something I will never know.
I think about Omar on days like today. Hopefully, he bought his house, has his dog, and is a manager of something somewhere. Wherever he wound up and whatever troubles he’s had getting there, he’s finishing a working life now. He must be at least 70. I sure hope his life has turned out well.
Adrift. Bumping from one thing to another. That’s where I am. I deliver mail. And during this injury interval, I case mail. When I get a chance I write. That’s what really holds things together. If I can’t think of what to do for a living and have a living at hand, I can write.
And today I’ve done that. First on the book project in front of me and now with this paltry essay. Figuring things out, doing what’s necessary. That’s what life seems to be these days. Maybe it doesn’t need direction or a higher purpose. But I have yet to absorb that lesson. I still look for the meaning, and maybe that’s my problem.
I can relate to much of this. I learned early on that i never wanted a career but merely a job that paid my bills. I’m always doubting myself, even now in retirement, wondering if I’m spending my one life well or wasting it.
Thank you for this post!
Thank you for writing and sharing your latest essay “Adrift”. Your words touch my heart–they get through to me. I want you to know that I admire your vulnerability and courage. I fully realize that you are just another flawed human being like all of us. However, you haven’t given up; you are still out their trying to do your best and figure “it” out. I am sorry that you injured your right shoulder. Interesting enough, my left shoulder has been causing me a lot of pain recently. Maybe by stopping by to say hi, we can help each others shoulders to heal.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I notice you and that I am grateful for your books and these essays. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Just another human being out there trying to hang in there and do my best too . . .