In leu of Valentines Day I had been going to write about long distance love and musings on the good and bad of relationships. I had been going to ponder on what makes happy moments in relationships and all the emotions that frazzle your brain and anchor you to someone else. But instead a nasty twist of fate has me focused on much less kind and warm notions.
I spend my life researching different diseases, usually nasty ones with little hope, and trying to find therapies or cures for those patients fighting on the front lines. Im not alone in this; doctors, nurses and researcher alike are all battling the myriad of diseases we face nowadays. For certain diagnoses this is a hopeful prospect while others are more uncertain. And for the most part I try not to think about it all too much. It doesn’t do to think much on your own mortality or that of your loved ones. Doesn’t help to realize how short and finite it all is. Doesn’t bear thinking about how many moments were wasted or neglected that can’t be recaptured or lived again. Things said in anger that don’t get taken back, loved ones not loved, opportunities for kindness not taken. Ive often thought about what will one day do me in and how it will all occur. Will it be one of my own researched diseases? Will it be due to years of tiny carelessness’s in a lab full of things ready to kill you? Will I feel like I have lived enough? Is there even such a thing as living enough?
We are all walking on thin ice, testing the cracks and waiting for a weak spot that will stop us in our tracks. Disease is a dreadful, hateful thing that comes out of nowhere and hits you like a bus. Sweeps you off your feet and turns everything wrong. I have never lost anyone truly close to me. I have always considered myself exceedingly lucky in this regard and if there is one thing I think of even less than my own mortality, its that of all my loved ones. The thought takes my breath away and stops my heart. And when you are finally faced with that particular demon it just feels helpless and incredibly sorrowful.
Positivity. An empty word, a state of mind or a goal to be strived for. I am usually more of a glass half empty kind of person. Most type A personalities are due to the need to succeed and take on never-ending workloads. When loved ones call me negative its annoying, I can see where they come from but I usually have a good reason for my negativity. It usually follows a minor stressful life disaster which I will admit I can escalate into a full blown apocalypse. However while I am not naturally positive I am eternally optimistic (whether I expect it to happen or not). Anytime I feel expressly negative I turn to quotes by greater minds than mine to help gain perspective. I drink copious amounts of tea and usually cry a lot cause it feels very cathartic and very therapeutic. Then I vow to be more positive, just be happy and ignore all the negativity. Of course thats lasts ten seconds until the kettle stops working or I get a bill for something I never purchased. And science is on my side because while I envy the Dalai Lamas zen soul and his seeming happiness, science has shown that merely telling yourself positive affirmations does not help you. Can you believe something even if it goes against your nature? And further more does being positive all the time dull the elation that comes from knowing things worked out even when you were hopeless? I have been elated a few times in my life and I still appreciate those special moments when you see something beautiful or the air is crisp and you feel it in your lungs and the world stalls for just an instant. I love those moments. The little instances when you take stock of your life and you breath with relief that it is the way it is in that moment. For instance the last few days have been challenging. I am navigating the american legal system with no road map and a bunch of deaf-mute guides whose motto is “that thing you have never done or seen before, its your responsibility to be a master, understand it all instantly and pay up if you make an error”. So naturally Ive been a 10 on the stress rictor scale of late. And then last night after a particularly difficult day I was walking home and there was ice on all the tree branches and they were all glistening in the fading light and I just took a deep breath and smiled because seeing that kind of beauty makes me think Im going to be alright, I have some inner positivity. (I should add that a gust of wind blew then and all the dagger shaped icicles shook in the breeze and I immediately imaged my own impaling – Im ok with halfway to happy and always extra safe :))
I stood outside for ten minutes before I could get up the courage to go inside. Pacing slowly, hands in pockets, face buried in my scarf against the bitter chill of the night air. Lexington Avenue was humming. Commuters passing in all directions, horns sounding the impatience of rush hour and my edgy figure stalling in a darkened doorway. “Man up” I told myself, “its just drinks and meeting new people”. I have never relished the thought of new encounters. Its not about other people, its how they might perceive me. An older women in a volumous coat lingers a second in the doorway before entering the bar. The warmth is so inviting. “Ok” I tell myself, “it’s now or never, just do it”. Feet of lead crossing the threshold. I am greeted by a smiley man. His hat is pulled low over his eyes so his smile is all I can see, a bit like a Manhattan chesire cat. He ushered me to the nametags and told me to enjoy myself. By this stage that inviting warmth has turned to uncomfortable sweating and I would kill for an ice-cold coke. The power of advertising has always been my foe. I had originally signed up for a running group, but as with all things nowadays that meant after work drinks. I made awkward conversation with a mismatched bunch of people some of who thought we were here for a singles night, others were members of the New York knitting meet-up. The conversation was flowing as well as it could amongst strangers with mismatched interests and even the standoffish grumbling of David, a Hungarian and our newest fledgling chatter didn’t stopper the flow. Then out of the fuzzy velvet shimmer of the doorway curtains stepped Marcuitio. He was the head of my supposed running group but was in fact a chuck Norris lookalike in a velour tracksuit. Even in all black he was quite a sight. He announced himself to the group as a famous director. I didn’t know whether to believe him or whether this was just an excuse for the cap and sunglasses in an already dark bar. Either way he looked more three blind mice than Stephen Spielberg. Only in New York right. Upon hearing I planned to try to run on a regular basis, he clasped my hands in his, the way a priest might when giving his condolences and explained the pros and cons of marathons. I was too busy thinking of Chuck Norris memes to hear any of this but when I did zone back in I realized I was nodding alone to a suggestion that I be in one of his films. For an instant I imagined myself like Rita Hayworth or Audrey Hepburn but then I removed my clammy hand, made my excuses and exited stage left. I figured if I needed ten minutes to gather my courage to enter a bar Id need a lifetime to get behind a camera. I paused on the stoop and looked up at the sign overhead. I might just have left Nirvana but I was pretty sure I had escaped the twilight zone.
Many times and experiences in your life may give you pause for thought and make you realize your humanity. I have had moments in mine where an experience will open my eyes to the fragility or futility of life but its only recently that I have started to feel like I have moved further in my life than I previously thought. I have become acutely aware of time and its rapid movement. And I can’t say its terribly comforting.
I have always been young for my age. I’m the eldest in my family but always a baby. I’m not always naive to the ways of the world but I have often ignored the reality to remain shielded from it. I had my first real relationships late, I never partied much as it wasn’t my forte and I follow rules religiously. Even I think I’m a square sometimes but I am mostly happy that way. Having just turned 28 (society teaches me that thats scary) and being torn about my career future I suddenly feel like I am hurtling through time.
Quite literally, last week, between one day and next I have gone from young for my age to rapidly running out of years in my life. And ironically I know this is just a perspective shift. I have previously blogged about my despair with the future of the academic science career. I am literally a proverbial neuroscientist out of water. Fear of poor career choices has lead me to consider (again) a career as a doctor, something I have always wanted and often postponed due to financial commitments or other opportunities. Well now that the option is looming again and having decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge it has dawned on me that I will be 34 when I graduate again and move into gainful employment. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I read that sentence. Thirty-four is not old in the slightest but having lived in New York for 6 months now my awareness of marriage and families is far more acute than it was in Ireland. My colleagues here are married younger and starting families young and while I’ve never given marriage and kids much thought, the fact that I will be in debt and up to my eyes in work well past 34 has made all these never-before considered life milestones seem like choices that need to be made now.
Increasingly nowadays they are publishing articles about women and work and the family life situation. The ticking biological clock and the choices facing women in this generation are presented to me daily in social media and popular culture. Suddenly something I thought was for the grown-ups of this world to decide and was so far from my consciousness is now creeping into my mind. I am getting ahead of myself but for a planner and linear thinker this modern world where everyone can have it all while the economy bottoms out again and again is changing the landscape for what makes for success. And if truly happiness is the only real goal, what does having it all really mean anyway?