About a year ago I was burningly restless with the urge to leap off the precipice that is the present moment. The past was solid ground behind me, reassuringly familiar, but there’s no going back, is there? That left me face to face with the future, that is, the great void beyond the cliff’s edge.
I could have wavered in the present indefinitely, tiptoeing along in my established routine. Each morning I clocked in at the office. Lunch was leftovers in the break room, and at night I watched reruns. With no threats approaching on the horizon, this pattern was set to continue indefinitely, maybe for a lifetime. It certainly would’ve been easy to keep my head down and ignore the open sky: if I didn’t interfere with its air patterns, it wouldn’t shake up my stable land, right?
And yet, the void was calling to me. I kept looking up into that tantalizingly undefined future, wondering what possibilities were out there if I could be brave enough to explore them.
“If I could be brave enough.” Because the void is terrifying, of course. Curiosity pushed me to peek over the edge, but fear kept drawing me back into my tiptoeing pace. I’d want to leap, and then I’d pull away again. I’d suppress the urge. In this way I stayed safely employed in the present for ages. It was comforting and comfortable.
But it was also unsatisfying, which I think is why we routinely talk of dreams. Now and then my friends and I described our visions for future endeavors, and these dreams hung distantly in the air out there like clouds. They filled up some of the emptiness… but they always drifted just out of reach. They were abstractions to admire, I think. Scenery. And on we paced in present patterns.
I wanted to run and jump beyond stable ground. I wanted to find out how it felt to free-fall through those icy clouds not knowing what lay beneath.
Finally the day came when that need in me was so overpowering that it drove me to the edge: I drew a deep breath and took the plunge.
The weeks that followed were a whirlwind. I threw off the heaviest layers of my life in a great flurry. Soon I was driving across the country in search of new scenery. I quit my perfectly-fine job, gave away my possessions, and started scrimping with my savings. I moved into a tiny studio apartment with a windowsill just wide enough to arrange my half-dozen souvenirs from travels past.
And—most importantly—most invigoratingly—every day I chose to get up, sit down, and write. I made words my new employment, unpaid passion though it was.
In the year since then people have told me that I’m crazy or stupid or brave for taking this leap. At times I see my friends and former colleagues, responsibly paying income tax and contributing to 401ks, and I fear I’m a fool for living “dangerously.” Still, I’ve come to believe that everyone’s daily life is in peril. Modern routines make the world seem predictable, but no one can know what lies ahead. Isn’t it fair to say that we’re all living on the edge?
The present is unstable ground: the tectonic plates of our life circumstances are continuously shifted by events beyond our control or even our comprehension, and we each could be thrown into the unknown at any moment. The wrong turn of a steering wheel or the lodging of a single blood clot could bring each of us crashing to an end without warning. For all you know you won’t awaken with the sunrise tomorrow. Every night is a bit of a cliff-hanger.
So how do we handle the terror?
We can turn our back on the void and let our eyes settle on the familiarity of the past.
We can watch our feet pacing beneath us, day in and day out, and avoid wondering whether they’re bearing us anywhere.
Or we can turn and face the wide open unknown.
Which is more foolhardy—to take a fantastic risk by choice? Or to pretend our daily lives aren’t fantastically risky in and of themselves?
As for me, I took the leap, and I’m still free-falling one unprofitable sentence at a time. At this rate, sooner or later I’ll hit rock bottom. Don’t worry—I’ll hit the ground running when I need to. I know that being an adult is hard, expensive work. Maybe I’ll save up as a combination barista-canvasser-French tutor for a while; I might even find myself right back in a squeaky desk chair in another office somewhere. Then the words may have to wait for a while, and those clouds of dreams will float lazily off toward the horizon again.
But once the dust settles, I’ll catch my breath and find the next precipice. And you can bet I’ll leap again.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
"The Summer Day"
Do you ever feel yourself drawn to the edge, contemplating a risky leap? What dreams are drawing you there? I'd love to hear from you. You can describe your horizons in the comments below or on one of my social media pages...