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The Long Game

It’s a long game. But it takes forever to realize what that means. Those tear-filled afternoons in junior high? The first big break-up? That job you didn’t get? The day you lost your mother? You were sure your life as you knew it was over—and in so many ways it was. But then, a turn ... a trail ... a new vista. I wish I’d known how many more curves there would be—how frequently hopelessness would ebb and an angle of light would offer me solace.

But knowing would have changed it all, I’m sure. It would have kept me from growing in the ways I needed to, meeting the people who would guide me, and even being with myself in the very hardest moments. When I was young, my own mountains of confusion obscured the long view, and every life event bore down on me with the same weight. Suddenly, it seems, I am so much older in nearly ever way. And somewhere along the way, I managed the trek up to this outcropping where the view forward and back reminds me that the long game is really all there is.

The freedom from this spot is like nothing I ever could have imagined when I was pretending to plan my life.

When I was in my mid-20s, my sister-in-law sent my dog-eared copy of my favorite book Slouching Towards Bethlehem, to the author—Joan Didion—and asked her to write in it for me. I had read every essay in the book multiple times and felt such a kinship to Didion because she, too, is from Sacramento. On Christmas morning, when I tore the paper off the package, I was perplexed at first. Then I opened the cover and read, in Didion’s handwriting, “May that flat valley horizon stay in your mind as fixedly as it has in mine.”

If you’re from Sacramento, you understand the literal meaning of that phrase. A drive outside the city limits provides a panorama as far as you can see in any direction. I was 25 that year; Didion was in her 40s. I know now that the broader view is what waits for each of us as we get older. We see the distance, the nearby, and the perspective, and we know ourselves in each. We’ve been there, we’ve survived it, and we’ve moved forward. It’s nearly impossible to get that view when you’re starting out.

For a million reasons, I find myself looking back a lot these days. It’s not a longing, exactly, but more a kind of nostalgia. New music technology lets me take a dip into Songs in the Key of Life and an old Cris Williamson album I listened to when I had only been out of the closet a couple of years. I’m back now at a college I worked at first when I was in my 30s. I see Facebook posts from people I knew when I was 7 and 17 and 27. Close friends are managing aging parents and I am struck by the fact that it has been nearly 30 years since I lost mine. And still, I am heading forward—working at a job I love, traveling with friends, living a delicious life with Jodi.

This is, no doubt, what happens to old women. We live rich lives and then tell sappy stories about them to our younger friends and family. And it could be that’s all this is. But there’s something else here, and I know it. It’s an appreciation for the fact that what I can see from here is so spectacular and so full. I feel a little resentful that I have so little time left to enjoy it, but I get the point. The freedom from this spot is like nothing I ever could have imagined when I was pretending to plan my life. And the message in that is loud and clear: Stop thinking about it and just enjoy it. There’s even more around the next corner.

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