“If you want to have a life that is worth living, a life that expresses your deepest feelings and emotions and cares and dreams, you have to fight for it.” Alice Walker
A year ago one of my editors assigned me a story for their 2016 fall issue. It was to write a profile on a well-known and busy Bozeman chef. I had a year to secure the interview and write the story. A year felt infinite, so I sat on it, relishing the oodles of time I had to accomplish this task. But when I received the summer issue of the magazine my article is to appear in, I felt a surge of panic. The story is due in eight short weeks and I have not secured an interview and have only just begun my research. Now, I’m anxiously pestering my subject with requests to schedule a time for us to meet. I hope he reads this and takes pity on me (my subject, not my editor).
I hadn’t forgotten about it. I had procrastinated. We all do it, and we all wish we didn’t. But what if our deadline is a lifetime? What will we do with that? No one wants to arrive at the end of their life and feel regret for the things not done because they thought they had time, or even reach a point in life when these things are no longer possible. Years ago a co-worker and I were talking about travel and she said, “Why should I travel now? I have my whole life ahead of me.” I nodded, but I wanted to ask her, “How do you know?”
We think we know. We plan for the years ahead as though they are guaranteed, as if we have the right to those imagined years. It’s easy to slip into a dreaming life. Wake up. Drink coffee. Go to work. Worry about bills. Go away for the weekend. Have a summer vacation. It’s not a bad life, and only those living in the first world have the privilege of wondering if it’s enough.
When I was in my early 20s I wanted desperately to hike the Appalachian Trail, all 2,190 miles across 14 states. I read every book ever written by women who’d hike the trail before and of course Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. They were invariably tales of personal growth and transformation. I wanted an aha moment too, but really I just wanted to walk under eastern hardwoods every day from spring until autumn and let the weather, sun, and moon govern my life’s rhythm.
In preparation I purchased an expensive expedition backpack, read all the practical books, and researched advice on how to plan for food drops and daily mileage goals, but that was as far as I got except in my imagination. In my mind I hiked miles and miles of the AT. I got rained on and had to scurry down mountaintops during thunderstorms. I ate homemade backpacking meals I concocted myself. I got sick of trail mix and traded food with other thru-hikers. I even imagined the disappointment of returning to regular life afterward. Hiking the AT is a dream that still nibbles at the edges of my psyche, fifteen years later. I’ve lived plenty of adventures, and for that I am grateful. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade them for six months on the AT. But if a dream persists 15 years later, perhaps it’s worth paying attention to.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates