A Refracting Beacon

A Refracting Beacon

I am vexed on some level just about every day, but this one’s sticking to me like a cheap suit in a heat wave.
Time: I’m running out of it.
I can feel it pressing in on all sides. The past against my back, urging me forward, the present smothering me on top and bottom, squeezing in to compel me to look ahead, and then there’s the future, closing in. I feel trapped, as if in a prison cell that starts out slowly shrinking in size, and the begins to accelerate as time progresses.
I’ve known about death since I was a child, like most people. Family would die, and I’d go to their funerals with my family, and people would cry, they’d say nice things. I was introduced to it more indelibly when, one morning, I found that my best friend had been hit by a bus while walking to school.
I remember a conversation we’d had years prior when we were both at that heady age of 10 years old:
Eli: “John, what happens to people when they die?”
Me: “I don’t really know.”
Eli: “My mom says they go to heaven.”
Me: “My mom says that, too.”
Eli: “If I died, what do you think would happen?”
Me: “I think you would be okay.”
Eli: “Really? Why?”
Me: “Because I think you’re an angel, and I’m an angel, too.”
I have never forgotten that conversation, because after he died, I remember playing it over and over in my head, and I wondered, I still wonder, if that had crossed his mind at any point in his final moments, or if it was just shock and surprise. Maybe both. I’ll never know, because not long after that conversation, we moved to different parts of the city, and two different school districts. We lost touch after that. I’d never get to talk to him again.
Eli and I had become the best of friends because we had the same interest: science. We had wanted to become rocket scientists together. Like me, he was fascinated by science, the Scientific Method, by physics, and chemistry. Unlike myself, He was much stronger in maths, but I made up for it by having memorized the periodic table of the elements (sadly, I can’t cite it from memory anymore), and the basic principles of motion.
His dream died with him. Mine would die years later when my grades started slipping. I was stressed, my mom and dad were fighting at home all of the time, we had no money so we’d go without power, without water, without food, so it was difficult to get work done. Add to that unfulfilled teenage hormones, and the beginnings of a struggle with my deeply held faith, my brain didn’t have a chance in hell of concentrating on my studies.
Still, I received several offers from colleges when I graduated, including the one I wanted most: Embry-Riddle University in Florida, an institution dedicated to the study of aeronautics and space flight. They had a rocket laboratory, I shit you not. NASA frequently pulled from their ranks to fill positions, so they were the real deal, the big time.
Unfortunately, even with a considerable discount offered from their end, the university was more than 900 miles away, I had no money even though I had been working since I was 14 (minimum wage won’t pay many bills), and the only scholarship our school offered had been handed out to a guy who had already paid his tuition. I couldn’t go. I didn’t have the resources required, and I had no credit to my name.
Any of you who know me well enough, are aware that underneath all of this sadness is the heart of an eternal optimist. I was 19, and knew that hard work and a little time devoted to scrounging as much as I could might still get me into a reputable college, and I could take it from there.
I’ve talked about it in other posts, but suffice to say at 38 years old, that dream has long died, along with so many of my other dreams. For example, I had dreams of falling in love, getting married, having a family of my own, but that has been shattered so hard that even the fragments have all but vanished.
That’s not to say I don’t have hopes, or that I don’t come up with new ideas, but they are quickly and expertly crushed by the system around me. I am a man alone, but not alone.
John Donne summed it all up:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

No man is an island, but the sea is vast, harsh and unforgiving. Those washed away leave some of their roots in those around them. My bulwark against the tide washed away a great many years ago, and now the sea laps at my shore.
I may not be an island, but I have become a peninsula, and my connection to the mainland is very tenuous at best. My time grows short.
When I was 10 years old, I knew I wouldn’t live past 60.
When I was 20, I knew I wouldn’t live past 50.
Now I’m 38, and I’m not sure I’ll live past 40.
Here comes and goes the tide, in and out. When it comes again, what will it take with it?

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