Spring is officially here this week in Philadelphia, which might mean a frosty morning with an afternoon sun which beckons the mercury up into the fifties for a few measly hours, followed by a day like the past two where it hovers in the 30s and 40s and just keeps raining or even snowing. It’s hard to get in a groove. Planning trips to chiropractors and Whole Foods around bike commuting days that float around the week with the unpredictable atmospheric conditions can be challenging. Last Friday the 18th however, was a gift to us weather-weary cyclists for sure. High of 78 degrees and sunny!
Friday morning I was so excited to ride in on the bike. But then I realized of course I would actually have to work once I got there, so I procrastinated by taking the dogs out for a "quick" morning walk. It was an afterthought; I was already in my kit and windvest; sunscreen applied, backpack stuffed, ipod ready….when I thought, I have to get these pups out this morning. Madison was following me around the house wagging her tail, trying to catch my eye to remind me that yesterday it had rained and they did not get out. She keeps track of these things the little rascal.
So I took them out; knowing it would make me even later. Walking in my bibs made me feel as if I was ready to jump on my bike at any moment, so there was no need to feel guilty that I kept walking farther and farther away from my house despite the time....until the three of us had meandered our way past countless crocus heads brandishing their purple crests on a two-mile stretch of east falls. That's what spring does to you. It's a good thing.
I finally got on my bike and headed south toward the airport where Liberty is situated in the 6.019 square-mile cultural, culinary, and intellectual wasteland known as Lester, Pennsylvania. Work was not too bad; the day went quickly and I could not wait to get back in my bike because as nice as it was on my way to work it was going to be 78 degrees on the way home. Yeah I mentioned that already.
I had a last minute guest that evening: my young teammate Charles Hanlon was arriving with his girlfriend Jen. He was racing the Philly Phyler race on Saturday; and Jen was a Marshal-in-Training, so I offered my couch and floor for them to stay so they would not have to get up as 4 am to get Jen to the race on time driving from Kutztown. By the time they got here I had already had a fire in my backyard pit for half an hour in the garden. The dogs were in their usual summer positions in the yard: Chloe nestled in a den of ivy, Madison sniffing the air sphynx-like on one of the carpet squares, surveying the perimeter. I was typing away but was having a hard time putting sentences together.
Charlie, between sips of the Golden Monkey I had offered my underage guest, might have thought it was strange to see me typing on my laptop on a Friday night. After all I was not in school anymore, that kind of stuff was optional. He asked me what I do for a living.
I hate that question. Especially lately. I replied that I worked as a Controller for Liberty Flooring, the commercial flooring company that has been sponsoring our team for the past 4 years. I added that since it's a small company I wear many hats so my job duties go beyond accounting. He nodded, taking it all in, this surreal balmy March evening whose largesse threw the three of us into the illusion of a mid-summer soire. Jen quietly unwrapped an apple blossom in the flickering light, licking her fingers gingerly.
"I'm writing in my blog right now. I'm really a words person more than a numbers person. I was actually an English major in college, I did a lot of creative writing back then..." my voice trailed off as I fondly remembered all those college writing workshops. "You know, it's funny, I love numbers too, because they don't lie, and I like their structure.” Jen smiled and agreed with me.
“….it's really the creative aspect of words that really turns me on; how they can be manipulated" I continued.
It's funny, one could say that it was the manipulation of numbers that caused the financial crisis of 2008 that still casts its shadow on our economy, but in my opinion the numbers don't lie; it’s the people interpreting them who lie, and they usually use letters to complete their subterfuge. Numbers can be fudged, yes, but it's a person committing that crime, not the data itself. The data is just a stream of information reflecting truths quantified by numerals. There is no guile there until a person comes along and manufactures the distortions.
"I would really like a career change, " I said, "but I don't want to take a huge pay cut. I have some expensive hobbies." Charlie smiled, because he knew one of them was bike racing. Not to mention luxury cars, raw-fed naturally reared dogs, my organic holistic vegetarian lifestyle with the $200 a week food budget, or maybe just being single when you are, well, long past the age where the last of your peers has succumbed to the two-earner household. All of them add up. I can't just quit my job and start freelance writing while leading bike tours in Europe, although it would be nice.
"I've developed a expertise in a industry that I don't want to work in anymore." The last few words I sort of swallowed, staring at those wavering orange embers and pondering the tragedy of it all.
Charlie caught this and said, "I'm sorry about that."
I was taken aback that I might have sounded bitter. I quickly pointed out that although it was not exactly what I wanted to be doing, the skills I have gleaned from scaling up several small businesses will serve me well when I start my own. He asked if I had done this yet, and I said I had, but I had to put it aside in the past 3 years when I started having all of my medical problems, which, I remarked, are now resolved. The words hung in the air for a bit between the pop and crackle of the fire. As if stating them aloud like that would make them come true.
And there it is, just like my therapist said, I am totally at a crossroads in my life. She said I have a “clean slate” now to construct the rest of my life, as much as I can, in the direction I want it to go. It was one of those trite phrases that therapists use such as “seeking closure” but nevertheless it was apt. Nothing tying me down. I can find a job somewhere else and start the next big adventure. I could keep on going with the mid-life crisis theme here but you get the point.
The opportunity to shape your own destiny, of course tempered by the vagaries of the lot thrown in your lap at birth, is one that many fortunate people have when they are Charlie and Jen's ages; but for me, it has come later in life. But that's just the way it goes sometimes. Not much I can do about it now but rearrange my relationship towards it a bit; that is to say choose to view it in a way that renders me appreciative, not regretful. That’s right, appreciation…. of the deepening of character forged from that hardship and experience. The other option is I can allow it to embitter me, which is what I started to do as I built the fire and waited for my young guests to arrive. Regret and self-recrimination are always a temptation for a perfectionist like myself who is prone to melancholy I suppose, but a fruitless one.
Now I was staring into those flames and thinking how simple an idea it is just to change my perception of my past so it enriches my present rather than diminishes it. A simple idea, but not always simple to adopt. For many years now I have feared the question, “what do you do for a living?” and chose not to think about the circumstances in my past that have led me down this path. It is like my twenties were a lost decade in my life that didn’t really happen, and their absence has left an odd gap in the tapestry of my personal history. I will have to dust off a lot of those experiences for the novel I’m planning on writing, so I will have to embrace transparency sooner or later. I might as well work on it now, and allow the light of this renewed perspective to illuminate the past that I have pushed away for so long.
Maybe this entire night was a gift. This invitingly warm evening, my young guests and their innocent question, and the crackling fire; a crucible reminding me not to be afraid of truth, illuminating the darkness that had settled gently upon us the way it falls in summer, despite the fact that just beyond my fence the last of winter was waiting to claim us again for a few last desperate weeks.