There’s a line thrown out there a lot when someone wants to talk another person into doing something spontaneous. On your death bed you won’t remember all the times you did <fill in your drudgerous, boring task>, you’ll just wish you had done <fill in something fun and meaningful> more. That is likely true, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t need to do the boring tasks a bunch of times even if they don’t happen to be memorable. And, even though that is true, boring tasks suck the life out of a person and if they are consumed too much they become an addiction, a false idol some poor souls bow down to. In weeks like these I go back and forth between those two competing ideas wondering if I’m setting a foundation for more of the work that is fulfilling, or if I’m just rolling a bolder up a hill I will never totally ascend.
This week was defined by a steady stream of work, with very little of note otherwise. I’m writing this post three weeks after the fact, but hardly remember what happened. If this were a death bed moment, I would be wondering what I did with my life when looking at this particular week. I know I spent a lot of time working. The long hours were to prep for time I would take off in the future, time to spend with Allyson as she grows more pregnant, time to prep for fatherhood, time to move my life towards a more balanced place. By the end, I discovered I had more work to do than I originally thought.
I’ve had a few lines from a poem I wrote in college stuck in my head, which I think is trying to connect me to the memory that inspired the poem in the first place. This was from a writing exercise to create a poem where the group suggests 5 words and the poet has to work them all in. I was writing on a weekend and just trying to capture what was going on. Here’s the poem:
“If the world were lost in cataclysmic apocalypse,
I would watch it from this back porch,”
I tell Mark and Jason as we just stare.
Today is prolific normal though.
My feet are on the rail
suspended in breezy air.
Inside, the dishwasher sounds
like it is having orgasms,
but in our steel chairs we relax,
watching life, copious out here
in this press box to our neighborhood.
And I try to remember what “cacophony” means
amidst sounds of squawking birds, engines from passing cars, and laughing children.
Doesn’t that scream undergraduate creative writing student trying to be profound? I’ll let you guess which were the 5 words we had to work into the poem. While the poem is pretty forgettable, because I remember it I also remember a portion of the day I wrote it. My good friends Jason and Mark were sitting on the balcony of our apartment with the sliding glass door opened behind us. It was a sunset in late Spring as pollen season was in full swing in the South and days were warming up. Life seemed busy then. We had classes, we studied, we worked, we played a lot of basketball.
Still there seemed to be moments each day where we sat around together with no sort of purpose, just hanging out. I miss that type of “prolific normal.” That knowing that there was much to do, but trusting there was also time to stop and sit watching something together whether it was sports or the apartment parking lot.
I feel a lot of comfort reliving those days, reminding myself who I was then and thinking of who I’ve become. Mark died just a few years later. Jason joined the military a few years later too. He’s in El Paso now, and I see him every few years. We used to see each other every day. Each of us followed a road that was leading us somewhere we felt we needed to go. I would not have predicted I’d be where I’m at right now. I am amazed by it sometimes. Like with anywhere else, though, there are weeks where you pinpoint another point in time and wish to relive it. Or you’d like to step back into that moment and tell those three on the porch what’s going on now. I’d like to hear myself then with a different confidence, with different insecurities, I’d like to tell him he’s doing ok, but that there will always be challenges.
On Thursday, Hope and I traveled to the valley for a string of tasks. We were to meet an American Camping Association visitor helping us check our progress for our upcoming standards visit. We planned to have a regular staff meeting to access progress. And, we needed to go to a Sears in Portland to pick up appliances for an apartment remodel at camp. The Yamhill, Newberg area we drove through was absolutely gorgeous. Everything is a deep green these days after our insanely rainy winter. Our meeting with our ACA visitor made clear to us we had a great deal of work ahead. The type of work that requires no weekends off, even when you thought you had one. The type of work that you will not remember on your death bed. Things like accreditation are not the types of things we write poems about, not the type of things we will want to travel back in time for 20 years from now. So, we hope this work is laying a strong foundation for the things we will remember.
The camp van is what you would expect from an all purpose camp van used to transport stuff. It has dings and dents, a blue stripe, and periodically something will go out that is difficult to fix. This van’s most glaring example of this right now is the non-functioning wind shield wipers. This particular day had been sunny and beautiful, but leaving out from our ACA consultation, pockets of rain began passing over 99W as I tried to get to the Ancestry Brewing where we planned to grab dinner and have our meeting. I had to pull over in several parking lots and wait for the rain to pass. Thankfully it did, but while sitting there full of that realization that I would be working weekends for the foreseeable future, that a day off might not come till I went on leave when my daughter was born, that knowing that there is still a trip to Sears and a long drive home, it was tough not to feel the wind taken out of my sails.
It’s difficult in that moment not to feel overwhelmed. It’s difficult when you’re overwhelmed not to want to be back on that porch in Knoxville when all you had to worry about was getting your writing assignment in and studying for the exam. I’m sure then, that stuff could be just as overwhelming, though. The rain finally stopped, and I finally got dinner. I talked to Hope about the work ahead. I went to Sears, got the fridge and oven. With the van finally loaded, I walked out of Sears into Portland. The sky was beautiful and the trees were in bloom. There were daunting things ahead, but we’ve face bigger. Who knows, we may look back on these days as something foundational. We may laugh over drinks about those marathon days. There was also that little girl forming in her mother, making her back ache a little more each day. Soon she will be here too. Soon I will take a break from all that work with the trust that it will be waiting when I return. We will spend those days hoping they are days worthy of death bed memory. I hope those days would also be something I’d like to take back and share with the three on that Knoxville apartment porch.