It's strangely fascinating how an idea can haunt me for long periods of time. This blog post is the child of one such incredibly long pursuit.
For years, I've been in the habit of thinking of life as a series of moments. Well, obviously, you may be thinking, but let me explain. Life is not just a series of moments. It's a series of decisive moments. Not just " will I wear socks today," but " will I say this thing that could change a life?"
A series of turning points, if you will.
One such turning point was the time I stood in a music store, my hoarded allowance grasped tightly in one hand, holding Carrie Underwood's first CD in my hand. Had I decided that music was more important to me than the latest Polly Pocket, I might be a country fan today. As it was, I really wanted Polly's dream house, and thus it was that the first album I ever bought was Dark Side of the Moon.
Every once in a while, there comes a time when eventualities diverge, possible outcomes differ greatly based on one simple choice. A turning point could be as simple as delaying college for a year, or as important as quitting a job. So you stand at the crossroads of your life, and have to ask yourself " where next? "
In my life, these moments have generally been similar to the first time I went on a high ropes course. The course was great up until the point I needed to jump across what was probably no more than a two foot gap. However, those two feet happened to be between 25 and 35 feet in the air, so I perceived the gap as significantly greater than it was.
Don't laugh. 25 feet is very high for someone who fears heights. Why said person was on a high-ropes course is a matter for a different post.
Back to the point, though. I've always seen my turning points coming from a long way off. As they draw close, I start to imagine what my body would look like at the bottom of the 25 foot drop. It gets closer and closer, and now I think I can't make that leap. By the time I reach it, I stand on the edge with my toes dangling into space and think to myself " there's got to be a better way across."
At this point, I do my best to weasel out of making the jump. This generally involves enormous amounts of backtracking, all so that this indecisive person can avoid making a life-altering decision. Ironically, this is also a life-altering decision - it just involves a larger amount of energy to reach it.
The reason I call these moments of madness is because most of the truly life-altering decisions are risky in some way or the other. Pushing back college by a year to travel and do missionary work is risky - who knows what you may be sidetracked into? What if you never return, and never get a degree or a job?
Quitting your unfulfilling job to pursue a passion is risky - what if you give up your opportunity to the all-important American Dream? What if you never hold a steady job as a result?
Going traveling in middle age or a road trip as a teenager - any of those moments will make you walk out of life-as-you-know-it. And the thing about life-as-you-know-it is that there's no going back, and there's never a truly convenient time to abandon it. There is always a good reason to stick with the status quo. There is always something to hold you back.
Thinking about all the moments I've missed by using this technique is, frankly, more than a little depressing. That is why I'm not going to talk about actual moments, but rather philosophy. If you don't want to talk about something, just use big terms and no one will be able to understand what you're actually driving at.
So, as previously stated, my general philosophy is one of avoidance. This should hardly be surprising, given that I tend to operate under a policy of avoidance as a matter of course. But also unsurprisingly, there are other options.
Option one is to leap without looking. In a world dominated by the extrovert ideal, this option is often presented as the" best" choice. We're going to die young, so forget the consequences and go do it! You only live once!
Option two is what more people in my community are supposed to believe: namely, risks are not worth taking, look before you leap and then run away. Caution is the name of the game. Do the Hard Thing and choose responsibility. Teenagers aren't meant to have fun, young adults have no excuse.
I'm not, by nature, a cautious person. My parents have frequently observed what they politely term "a sense of urgency" in the way I prefer to go about things. In one of those rare cases of nature and nurture being at complete odds, my parents raised me to be thoughtful and to weigh the risks of things rationally. Combined with the philosophy of option two, this manifested itself as a total unwillingness to try risky things.
The thing about moments of madness is that they are often necessary to reach our destiny. One is not mad simply for the thrill of the thing (though thrill is, by no means, to be overlooked), but rather for the possibilities awaiting on the other side.
Can you tell I've been reading Paul recently? I can. :)
But anyway, moments are there because the potential of a life forever changed is not actually a bad thing. I would argue that a disruption to the status quo is desirable, even necessary. One of the things that had been stressed here in Perth is that God didn't have a boring life planned for us. The comfort of a middle-class life may seem desirable in the long run, but wonders rarely occur inside our safety zones.
If anything, when that madness overtakes us, we should stop, look, and then take a flying leap into the unknown. Because ultimately, it's not so important if the distance was two feet or twenty - it's whether you we're willing to break a few bones.