Onward, to that distant sun

by Today Letter

Photo by Christie Chisholm

I didn’t think I’d be bothered by growing older—growing up, out, stretched by one day and then another into a kaleidoscope of shapes. As a young thing, I contemplated a future that felt so far ahead as to be no more than a figment, and in it I fancied myself a sage, brimming whimsically with facts and prophecy. A Maude. A manic pixie dream … grandma, I guess. In these fantasies, at some ripe age, I would have lived fully, magnificently, and so would not be disturbed by a wrinkle or sloping of soft skin. 

They are the kinds of plans that only the very young can make, and they are only considered grandiose at the time they are made because they seem to belong to another lifetime entirely. A distant star in the universe of your life. So far away that by the time its light reaches you it is no longer the same beast, but has metamorphosed, cocooned, and in its destiny grown those ethereal appendages that will unfurl, take flight, explode into psychedelic haze. It is so far away that you understand it in the same way you understand space and time. You believe in that unseen horizon only because you have been told it exists. The promise is entirely theoretical.

I made those plans and thought those thoughts when I was 6, and then 16. At 26, I had only just boarded the rocket that would shoot me to that unknowable star—at unfathomable speeds, I would later learn, although they would feel like stillness at times for the quiet movement of relative objects in the distance, the only reference with which to gauge pace in that deep soup of nothingness and everything.

I wish the journey were slower, closer to the perception of movement that comes with gazing out into that inky periphery, watching galaxies flow past us like syrup.

At 36, I am still so many light-years from that destination, but I have seen the moon, waded into the dark ether and felt the pull and release of gravity. I’ve been scuffed by cosmic debris, passed planets, narrowly skirted black holes. I have had a taste. And that changes everything.

It is the timeline that bothers me most. The predictable story arc. Like the great majority of our species, I do not enjoy being told what to do or when to do it. No one wants to think about time running out. And it is patently unfair that one gender is prescribed different deadlines than another, both by culture and, in part, biology, thwarted by the very magic that sparks our bones to stir and want in the first place. I want to have children, at least I think I do, but I don’t want them now. I want a partner to spend decades with—but my, that sounds like a long time, and isn’t it also a little bit terrifying?

I didn’t want to be a woman who worried about these things. I didn’t want to be disgruntled by numbers, one more birthday, a new badge of identification we are each forced to claim. I didn’t want to worry about what it would mean for the whole of my life if I don’t do certain things within certain pockets of that life—although certainty is itself a human abstraction. I wanted simply to live. That is still what I want. That is what we all want.

There remains such immeasurable distance before me—that is, at least, the hope—but I’ve gone far enough on this odyssey to already understand the pierce of regret, the pain of loss that comes with time. I do not wish to be younger, nothankyouverymuch, but I wish the journey were slower, closer to the perception of movement that comes with gazing out into that inky periphery, watching galaxies flow past us like syrup. I wish years did not instead tumble like a series of waterfalls, each gaining a little more speed from the last.

In those childhood imaginings, the future self I invented always appeared alone in my thoughts, even though my presumption and ambition was to have family, partnership, motherhood. Maybe it’s because there’s something about that sort of independence that appeals to me, although to be honest it also sounds sad. I think the closer truth is that, even as children, we understand that no matter what surrounds us, we are the only ones who can board our particular flight, that our paths may weave and merge but that in the end, that distant star is ours alone, a fiery, winged beast waiting to show us what it means to bloom.


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