The road to rebirth is a rocky route.

Mostly because it’s impossible.

None of us can, at least by our own powers, truly start over. All we can do is continue, right from where we are. I imagine that what one would normally refer to as “a rebirth” or “starting over” is, in actuality, merely a more-drastic-than-usual change in one’s current trajectory.

Today, this idea of the “direction” life moves in has enraptured my thoughts. As apt an analogy as it can be, moving directionally as if driving down a road forfeits the complexities of human decision-making. For example, we can be convinced that we should take a (metaphorical) right, yet we’ll turn with no way of telling whether we’re now going north or south. Also, it would seem that we’re all capable of moving in contradictory directions at the same time; for example, someone who goes to school for engineering yet wants to be a chef.

That hypothetical example lands close to home, from when I was majoring in mathematics although all I wanted to do was be an author/songwriter. If that wasn’t enough of a divide, even within mathematics itself, I was torn between pursuing being a career mathematician or a math teacher. These imbalanced directions caused a lack of personal fulfillment that made none of these potential paths seem plausible. An eventual switch to studying English/writing brought a helpful extent of focus into my college years.

Earlier today, a kind and curious Chinese man asked me, in occasionally-broken English, what’s my dream for my life. The conversation had evolved from him asking questions about the bright yellow book I was reading (the Theodore Roethke poetry collection I discussed in yesterday’s blog post), which inevitably led to me mentioning my own literary and musical pursuits.

“Have fans?” he asked.

“Not many. Zero,” I responded, correcting myself by an attempt to keep my statements as simple as possible.

My answer caused the man to chuckle, followed by some silence before he asked, “What is your dream?”

“I want to work from home,” I said. “Write songs for other singers, write books, and be home to raise my kids.”

He smiled. I then returned the question his way and received a surprising answer: “Dying.” His dream was to die.

Honestly, as pessimistic as the answer seems, it’s a totally valid point. Death is the one direction we’re all headed in, and too often we plan our lives as if death isn’t on its way. (Or rather that we aren’t on our way toward it?) The man then expressed how what he was trying to say was hard to translate. He amended “dying” with a new response: “To be.”

These, the dreams of being and of dying, are two perfectly balanced directions, neither of which truly exists without the other. The man was surprised to hear that “to be” and “dying” were mostly what my precarious yellow book’s about. As Roethke wrote in one of his poems, I learned not to fear infinity, / The far field, the windy cliffs of forever / And I rejoiced in being what I was.

What directions, plural, are you headed in?

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