Early life is sliced into three epiphanies. They’re the growing pains that read, “And things were never the same again…”
They wash up on the shore of a silent night, or follow tragedy like thunder chasing lightning. Sure, they don’t need to wear crooked smiles. Bloodshot eyes find divinity behind the dump each afternoon; a short-lived revelation whose aftershocks smooth with sobriety.
An illusory smoothness. The world is always shaking.
1.Death is coming.
It must have been in middle-school. Staring at a blank Xanga entry hungry for melodrama, I turned my head to make sure nobody was crawling behind me. Then I turned back to the screen and death said, “You think about me now.”
The initial reaction is to recoil, to run. An automatic response as the snake strikes the glass. Shut the blinds, say your prayers, but she’s still there. Death is a patient wolf who waits for the moon to hide under the covers.
Supposed experts offer little in the way of condolences. Seneca meditated on fate’s twists; Schopenhauer played the flute; Emil Cioran wrote prose-poetry. Meanwhile, Epicurus’ “No big deal,” is regularly offered as a Googled retort to anyone pointing to the clock. The rest of us bury the inevitable at the bottom of Santa’s sack. Finger’s crossed it will come when we’re standing on a caboose slamming into the ebbing tide. Maybe St. Peter gives out refunds.
Today’s in-vogue reaction is one of ironic acceptance: a dulling of the blade with well-timed jokes and pretend-indifference. An ironic reaction. Though irony keeps a coat of cynicism in its closet. An outfit stiff and withered.
Whether fate’s finality deserves attention or not remains to be seen. For now, I’ll pin death’s soft humming to a post-it. A reminder to be impressed, rather than feign acceptance while secretly believing I’ll live forever.
2. I probably know more than my parents.
At 18 kids smoke cigarettes in boot camp. At 21 they drink dollar Miller-Lites at a college bar, monitored by studious bouncers. At 50 they receive a congratulatory letter from the AARP. Each is admittedly arbitrary. Marks because legislators needed a line in the sand. Not that lines in the sand don’t leave indentations.
There comes a point when a semblance of maturity oozes out of the shower head, washing over us with a sudden, unexpected paroxysm. No age required. It’s funneled through the steam’s lungs. Becoming louder. Louder. Drowning out the drops splashing against the slightly flooded tub below. “My parents don’t have all the answers.”
Recognition that’s essential to growth and to some notion of individualism. Every hero has to leave their village, slay the demon, and fell the timber for a home—or at the very least light a fire. It is to become remote from childhood, to see the past through a telescope backward: an unreachable fading light lost in a crowd of crying stars.
Some people probably become trapped at this epiphany, or never embrace it between their hands. They smear it like a clod with a lightning bug, remaining under the all-seeing eye of mother-knows-best. Why? Because if you do know more than your parents, and know how little you know, then who knows anything at all.
3. Nobody has any idea about what they’re doing.
Despite egalitarian prophecies, there are few ways in which people find common ground. We are all born to parents; we shall all die; we all tend to enjoy sequences that come in threes. Less accounted for is that all of us—no matter who we are—have no idea what we’re doing.
We fake it until we make it. A tired maxim that’s true no matter the year. At some point, you accept it reluctantly or live on a stage until the curtains rip themselves off their rings. There are no adults, but there are children shedding hair.
Hence, why conspiracies involving masonic puppeteers (or reptilian infiltrators) are attractive. The alternative is terrifying: individual wills colliding against one another atop life’s billiard table. At any moment, an eight-ball might set the bar on fire.
Anyone who’s worked in government—or most corporations—can relate to the seeming impossibility that anything stays afloat. Columns are made of balsa wood, ripe for collapse like a November apple, fragile as a soap bubble, a world surviving on the gasp of evaporating moments. It’s impressive.
The third epiphany is sobering. “There are no strings on me.” Or you. Or anyone. A sobriety invariably linked with freedom once you wipe away the darkness. It’s also sympathetic—no wonder it’s easy to fall under the sway of ideologues.
If a collected moment unfolded, in which each unto each reached the same conclusions, the world would break.