I think with every new thing we try in this life that we didn't think we could do, it somehow spurs us on to something else.
I think if I had one important piece of advice for young people it would be, keep trying new things. Especially things that scare you.
I have talked about the importance of saying yes, but that only comes into play when someone asks you to do or try something, right? It requires an invitation. Some things we have to decide to take a shot at all on our own.
What is life, after all, if not an opportunity to experience lots of different kinds of things? Sometimes doing that requires that we push our way through the invisible barriers we create for ourselves.
Something kind of funny is happening. Suddenly I'm wanting to do things I told myself I would never do.
At some point in my life I made a mental list of things I swore I would not do. "I'll never be a fiction writer," I told myself. I'm not good at it. And besides, life is plenty interesting just as it is, why fictionalize?
Well maybe because it's a good idea to stretch the brain to a new place. I don't like writing fiction because it's hard. You have to sit with it for a long time and be very patient as the story reveals itself. You have to keep coming back to the story, day after day, to see what happens next.
"I have no desire to learn how to fly an airplane," I stated unequivocally at some point. But lately every time a little plane buzzes overhead I find myself staring at it, like a kid looking through the window of the pet shop. So I called the person who teaches flying in Shelburne and I tried really hard to not sound like the deeply curious and confused, menopause-ily altered 52-year-old nutcase that I am.
"I'd like to try to learn how to fly," I told the kind gentleman on the other end. "But I don't think I want to get a pilot's license; I think I just want to have the experience of flying a plane."
"Does that make sense?" I asked him.
"It sure does," he replied. And then we set up a time for a lesson in September.
This summer I am learning how to drive and dock a boat, something I have always let the man at the helm tend to. In the fall: a letterpress class in Montpelier and a fiction writing workshop in the Adirondacks. Piano lessons.
I have a dream of making a book from scratch. And it is floating up there now with the dream of soaring through the air in a machine piloted by me.
I have done and survived many things that I thought would scare me to death: public speaking, skydiving, the Dräger trailer in firefighter training. Surfing in California. I am afraid of the ocean.
There are many small miracles in this life: pregnancy and birth, putting a seed in soil and then eating the eggplant that has grown, a few months later. There is the miracle of what our brains can think and imagine. The miracle of what our limbs can do. We didn't come into this life to sit in chairs or stare at screens or watch from afar as other people live their lives of adventure and purpose.
What does it feel like to catch a fish? To raise a dog? To touch a glacier? To make a pie? To watch someone take their last breath? What does it feel like to knit a sweater? To beat the undertow? What does it feel like to drive 120 mph? To ski a double black? To move somewhere where you don't know anyone? To see your name in print?
I didn't think I could do that is one of the best things you can say in this life. Four years ago I sat on the side of a lacrosse field with several women whose daughters were also there practicing that day and we talked about the things we wanted to do. "If I could do anything, I would go to seminary," I declared that afternoon, with a kind of dreamy melancholy, thinking it would never happen. But then it did. And now I'm almost done.
The thing is that you really can do pretty much anything. And you should. You should try. Life is so beautiful, so infinitely fascinating. It smells so good and sounds so good. You can see it from all sorts of angles: the top of a mountain, under the sea, laying flat on the ground, falling through air with a parachute up above. Just don't let yourself see it through someone else or, god forbid, on the screen of a computer. Go out and touch it. When you are ashes again someday you won't have any hands. Amen.
Don't be afraid, go right ahead and subscribe. I promise it won't hurt.