Editor’s Notebook: A plot twist in mid-August
Afternoon sunlight feels a little bit different in mid-August. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
We’re using blankets again.
For most of this scorching August, nighttime meant waking up every hour or so to kick away any bit of bedding touching feet or legs. We would turn our pillows – and turn them again – searching in vain for a cool spot to rest our damp heads. But then, just like that, the weather shifted and the air grew sweet.
The weather shifted, and night found itself.
I feel little shifts every day lately, inward and outward. Like many of you, I’ll be dropping a child off at college this month. Her younger sister is halfway through high school and dreaming of faraway places. Their mother and I are reeling, and not just because of how rapidly time is moving. We are reeling because the story we tell ourselves about who we are is changing.
If we are not the parents of young children who need us, then who are we?
From the day we’re born, we begin reciting on an endless loop – and for all of our days – a personal story of identity. The tragic part is that many of us never really figure out that the script is written by others.
The first scribes are our parents and siblings, who teach us our name and then compile a list of adjectives that belong to us – sweet or selfish, funny or rude. Soon, playmates and classmates begin participating in the development of our sense of self, along with teachers, coaches, and mentors. Many of us will go on to identify ourselves with the work we do, telling others with great pride the method by which we provide for our families. Our spouses or partners will play an outsized role in the story arc, as will our children, who were conditioned just as we were: Their successes and failures will become part of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.
It’s no wonder that we are so attached and protective of the identity that is created for us and that we fully believe to be real. If we are not the person we think we are, that others have told us we are, then who are we?
And where do we begin to find the answer?
I can see from the extended outlook on the weather app that there is a lot of summer left to be lived. We will likely see more 90-degree temperatures and the kind of humidity that presses down. There will be more tossing and turning. Night will again lose itself in the sour darkness.
On a sleepless night, with the first hints of autumn in the air, I picture myself standing at the edge of all I know. Behind me is the story of “I”– the memories of success and failure, joy and grief, pride and embarrassment. Directly in front of me are the anxieties of the moment – personal, financial, and professional matters with hidden outcomes that won’t let me rest.
Suspended between past and immediate future, I imagine myself at last finding a permanent home in the present moment. I imagine myself saying, as Krishnamurti did, “Do you want to know what my secret is? You see, I don’t mind what happens.” I imagine the weightlessness and stillness of that moment – when I at last stop protecting my story.
I imagine what it would feel like to finally be awake, and then I pull the blanket up to my chin and let sleep take me.
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