Things we don't discuss in polite company

" The American way of life is an illusory kind of existence… The price demanded for the security and abundance it pretends to offer is too great."
- Henry Miller

This might be my story. It could be yours, or hers. Forget the details, tumble fact in with fiction and let’s borrow from the many women of our generation.

Art by Kate Gillett

So this friend of mine....
Jo got married at 26, to her high school sweetheart, come best friend, come fianc√©e, come husband. Follow the stream, its easy to do, a groundswell of excitement from friends and family, safety of ritual and family heirlooms. A wedding, in Australian summer, 38 degrees, champagne in a garden party, an antique veil handed from great-grandmother, to grandmother, to mother and onwards. A beaming groom, and a puppy with a bow for good measure of cuteness and charm on such a happy day. This is it, this is what you’ve always wanted, whispered as she turns in her husband’s arms during the bridal waltz.

But is it? Was it? What were the alternatives? 

Perhaps it’s lazy for a woman of our generation to put up her hands and say she was swept up by the tide of her culture. Shouldn’t she know better? Aren’t we daughters of a feminist “revolution”, educated by Germaine Greer, Eve Ensler, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood and more? Surely we can’t claim that nobody told us? Jo’s been to university, earned more than every man she ever dated. She’s traveled the world alone, kissed women, boldly agreed that its about the individual and not the gender, fallen in love with older men, crossed the globe on a whim for romance, and had glorious and terrible one night stands.

And, she’s been disappointed, let down, disillusioned, and disgusted by many a soul washed up on the backpacker beaches of South-East Asia, shipwrecked by life, alone, high, and bitter. She’s seen women in their 50s, divorced or never wed, aching in loneliness, angry, wheeling dogs in prams. Where exactly does happiness lie? In the sensible guidelines set out by traditional Australian predecessors?  Marry someone who is a good friend, for eventually passion fades anyway.  Have children, because you will never love anyone the way you love your child.  And look for the pleasure in small things: a well-kept garden, a delicious meal cooked from raw ingredients, a mindfully hung out load of laundry.  If all that fails, there’s always wealth, consumerism, and the newest HBO series available for your binging pleasure.

The part that gets missed, of course, is that life is about the living.

Life can be lived richly in a household of suburban Australia. It can also be lived richly in a gypsy existence, a patchwork of relationships and work and existence across the globe. But it comes in the living. In waking up to our own inner reality, the call of our own inner fibre, engaging in the evolutionary knowing of our own molecules, following its infinite abyss right to the heart of our own existence. 

It cannot be lived to someone else's formula, the very nature of following their footsteps leads us out of our own. There is no safe arithmetic for life: husband+house+baby = happiness, or career+success+wealth= security and fame. Happiness and unhappiness are like the phases of the moon, they come on their own as conditions arise. Fame and disrepute, energy and exhaustion, peace and restlessness; they are the coming and going waters of the tide, and as equally uncontrollable.  

Art by Kate Gillett

If I let go of the goal of happiness, then there is much in this lifetime I would open up to experience. If at the heart of being human, is the truth that we are never truly safe, that we are impermanent and headed every increasingly towards, and always momentarily from death, then why aspire to the confines of safety? Life is a risk, from the moment the sperm is released on its great race towards the egg. It’s a precarious miracle that cells ever united and divided into a human being, and that oxygen molecules still continue to permeate lung membrane and transfuse into blood, that our organs drink glucose, that the heart beats, that we live.

I have just this “one wild and precious life”.  Forget “getting it right”. There’s no circumnavigating around pain, grief, loss or loneliness. There is no safety to be had. No one else is really watching, there are no Joneses I need to keep up with. 

It’s just me. The only one who can take these footsteps through life. 
So I should probably get to know my feet.

“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?”
— Mary Oliver


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