The Essential Epiphany
As discussed in the Dream, the desire to expand the bounds of normal life and go adventuring is about as common as the desire to be an NFL star or win a beauty pageant, and about as commonly realized. Of course, this was a reality that sunk in slowly, but very certainly, into my consciousness in the months preceding the initial dream infection.
Life went on, the alarm clock went off every morning. I showered, shaved, and dressed as people expect a legislative aide to do. I showed up when expected, I completed projects as required. The office was never too hot and rarely too cold, my chair was soft. The restrooms were cleaned by servants. It was all very comfortable, actually.
When you are drifting down a river, there isn't any current. It's only when you try and stand in the river or, worse, walk upstream, that you realize the dream-crushing power of society. All the visible rewards are clustered around conformity.
At first, I brought up my dream with others at any opportunity given; at potlucks and over BBQ chicken and potato salad in a neighborhood backyard. I was met with quizzical looks, odd facial expressions and bemused questions. No one was harsh or outright negative, but the messages were there and they weren't always subtle. To top it off, Lisa was pretty skeptical, and becoming increasingly uncomfortable with my favorite topic.
I am not that socially gifted, so it took a while before I figured out that I had better keep things to myself before I scared the people who loved me and who had respected me as a responsible person. Instead of talking, I read as much as possible about boats, routes and methodologies.
I internalized the dream which, it turns out, is just one of the phases dreamers go through, like potty training. No, you can't just unload this stuff anywhere, anytime you want.
Epiphany: the sudden realization or comprehension of the larger essence or meaning of something.
Life progressed, children arrived, jobs changed. The dream now was fully internalized, rarely discussed, mostly shelved. It existed now only as a small corner in my mind, like a page folded down in a good book you finished years ago and only occasionally noticed gathering dust on your shelf.
It was fall; not quite winter, but close. The leaves were gone and mornings were chilly. I had an appointment in town, another meeting. Employees love meetings because they consume work time without requiring the attendees to actually produce something tangible. I was working for myself now and had come to discover how much a person could actually accomplish in an hour when you didn't make a single penny until you delivered something of value. It was a harsh and rigorous lifestyle that took some getting used to.
We happened to live between a fairly large prison facility and the major courthouse for the State. They often transport prisoners in 15 passenger vans which are painted a soft blue and look pretty normal, expect for the police car like barrier between the passengers and the driver. As I merged onto the highway that morning, I saw one in my rear view mirror. It moved to the left lane to let me in and passed by a moment later.
In a flash, I realized it wasn't a load of prisoners headed in for processing, as I had seen on so many other occasions, but it was one of the City's new Share-a-Ride vans painted the same color, but packed with commuters instead of convicts.
I felt a numbing sensation spreading up my spine as I searched to find the difference between the cargo of the two. In point after point, there was little material distinction.
- Both were headed to appointments they didn't really want to attend.
- Both had their futures scripted out for them, a promotion here, a probation there.
- A few hours exercise in the yard, a couple weeks of vacation refreshment before more meetings.
- One group had clothes prescribed and given to them, the other had clothes prescribed which they were expected to buy on their own. Yes, the commuter could pick the bold red tie if he wanted to make a statement.
Both commuters and convicts were acting out a script that others had written for them based on a few casual choices made years before, often with little forethought. One had decided to rob the convenience store, the other had decided to pursue accounting. While those choices are not morally ambiguous, they resulted in similar lifestyles. Of course, on the face of things, the commuters were free to not go to work that day, or maybe even that week. But what then? In fact, they were following the herd not because they were forced to, but because they weren't aware of any real alternatives.
They were prisoners in their minds, just as certainly as the convicts were physically constrained from throttling the driver.
It was in that 30-minute drive that I realized I was effectively in the bus with the rest. Sure, I had my own business and some minor freedoms, like setting a schedule and dress code, but I was a prisoner to other's expectations and bound just as strongly. It was a cold reality, and it brought back a memory, a folded page in a story experienced long ago. I shuffled around for a few minutes, found the page and re-read it with fresh perspective:
I hadn't chosen when to be born and I wouldn't choose when to die. The only choice on the table was whether to seize the interval I had been given.
Something inside me snapped awake. To go or not to go was not actually a matter of casual choice like picking toppings for a salad or an entree from a menu. Considerable research has been done among the elderly about what advice they would give to the younger generation, if any of them cared to listen. Which they don't, actually. By far, the most common response they give amounts to, "I played it too safe, I should have taken more risks."
I realized that I was on that safe track, building steam toward a regretful decline. Just as every lost minute counts, so every passing year meant I was one step closer to the last chapter. It was time to get serious, to take concrete steps, to buck the tide and set things in motion for a launch, even if it was years away.
This kind of Epiphany, I now realize, is far more rare than the Dream. More rare and, thus, more important. Like finding a diamond in a gravel pit; it's not something you forget and its discovery makes the unexpected possible.
- Next, Myths & Distractions