Today I filled the dishwasher, folded the laundry, changed the sheets, and cleaned up the yard after the dogs. Although these are mundane tasks, they serve as comforting antidotes to the frequent craziness of my life. They are basic rituals that remind me I am safe and that things are at least somewhat orderly and in control. All of my life I have felt a sense of relief when I’ve engaged in these kinds of activities. Today was no different, but I am acutely aware right now of an internal pull urging me to make more of a mess, to play it less safe, and to live larger.
No one who knows me would believe that last sentence. I’m sure my friends picture me carefully organizing my sock drawer, alphabetizing my spices, and straightening my house before the house cleaner comes. But I am 66 now, and one of my most prominent feelings is that my life is rushing past like a bullet train. Not only do I feel the urge to grab all the gusto, but I want to do it wildly, loudly, and chaotically.
Even during the hardest times, we slog through our lives and
come out fuller and richer on the other side.
On the resume that exists in my head, I am an experienced master at living a small and careful life. The desire to go unnoticed, to not cause trouble, and to not be a problem to anyone has guided me practically every step of my life. I grew up in a family in which emotional chaos arose when I least expected it. This created such a love of vigilance and caution in me that I never imagined how much good stuff existed outside my carefully constructed box.
Although I am well aware of the cliché nature of this longing to live large, I can’t seem to resist it these days. I find myself almost magnetically drawn to bucket lists, books with titles exhorting readers to Wake Up!, accounts of people who chuck it all and move to an exotic location, and anything that transcends the daily machinations of life and exists instead in a world of art and music and words.
Having lived a careful and calculated life, I am still quick to invent all of the reasons that these things wouldn’t work—or at least not for long. I can recite the ways in which anything far out of the ordinary would be fraught. In fact, my very ability to do that is no doubt a big part of why I have yet to spend a summer in the south of France.
Along with the growing sense of how short life really is, though, life in my mid-60s has also demonstrated to me that I can survive and even thrive under less-than-awesome circumstances. Even during the hardest times, we slog through our lives and come out fuller and richer on the other side.
All of this does not mean I’m heading off into the unknown. It does mean, though, that in my own careful way, I’m thinking lots more about being less so. I’m imagining ways I can try new things while still managing my life. And, I’m talking to anyone I know who is doing something out of the ordinary. I had no idea—even when I was in my 50s—how little I would value having lived so cautiously. This much later, I can only say that it has taught me that I am disciplined and determined. But I have no idea if I am also capable of being adventurous, or carefree, or spontaneous. Having avoided those adjectives out of fear of chaos and the unknown makes them a little scary at this late date.
The box I’ve lived in has been rich and lovely and sweet, but I’m ready to look out over the edge, to add some space, and to experience more. I have no doubt that everyone feels this when they reach the last part of their 60s, and that serves as solace and inspiration for me in my dreaming. I have no idea where this road I’m imagining will lead me, but I’m excited to see what’s out here—as unshackled as I can be after such a long life of carefulness. I often wish I’d had this resolve when I was 22 and headed out in the world as a grown-up for the first time. But a huge part of me knows it takes this much time and this many steps to understand what it really means to be a bigger person.