At the end of every life of which we humans are aware, we have this compulsion to call the end – to say, at some point, that the end has come.
It could be the doctor in the ER, giving up and checking his watch after a failed attempt at defib. It could be the family, being forced to make a decision to pull the plug. It might be the pet owner, deciding that enough is enough – that his beloved companion should suffer no more.
Or it could be me, looking at my tube of toothpaste.
A week or so ago, Ethel laid the tube out and used a straight edge to push what was left to the top. I’ve managed to keep it going until this morning, but I’m afraid that I just might have to say goodbye to this tube.
(While I’m saying that, I’m secretly suspecting that I’ll be able to get one more brush out of it at lunchtime. But that’s a secret – don’t tell anybody. I’ll know that I’ve really given up on this tube when I go into the other room and pull out a new one).
I can’t help but think of all the metaphors.
My hair – I gave up in 2005, and started shaving my head. I knew that I was never going to have a head full of follicles again, so I might as well let my scalp go out with dignity. My running career – in 2013, I finally realized that whatever had happened, had indeed happened, and I wasn’t going to get back to doing tempo runs at 7:30 pace again.
Also, in 2005, I gave up on skiing; I called it. I moved to the desert, and sold my gear. As it happens, that one was dead wrong; my skiing wasn’t dead, but not skiing almost killed ME. Four years later, we got a condo in ski country, and started commuting. Today I’m grateful to say that my skiing is alive and well, and living in Montana.*
I keep almost giving up on triathlon; the fact is that I’m getting slower and slower, but another fact is that that may not really matter; so far, I’ve managed to finish before they’ve broken down the finish line and sent everybody home.
Then there’s my actual career – my chosen profession; my role as a software engineer.
For many years, I was a bright light – not a rockstar, but always a solid performer, and quite often one of the best. That lasted for a good while – but it’s all faded now. For the last five and a half years, I’ve lived with the constant awareness that I’m the dumbest guy in the room.
Okay, that’s not exactly right – in September and October of ’13, while I was in the five week training bootcamp, I seemed to be at the head of the class; my colleagues and instructors indicated that they thought so, as well.
But as soon as I got back to Salt Lake, something happened; when it came time to actually perform, I felt dumber’n’a bag of hammers. And I’ve felt that way now ever since.
Now I’m 60 years old, and I’m tired; and discouraged. And every day at work feels like one more day of trying to squeeze toothpaste out of a tube that maybe should be tossed. Ethel, again, is quite helpful – she keeps laying my career out on the counter and squeezing it with a straight edge, trying to get a little more life up to the opening.
Some days aren’t bad – some days, though, it’s difficult to make it to the end of the day. I have tried pills for my ADD, and getting 8-9 hours of sleep – of taking nap breaks, or meditation and prayer time, throughout the day. I keep attempting to find a different way of approaching the job – but, sometimes, I simply have to admit that maybe it’s not supposed to be fun, and that’s why they pay us.
Unlike my skiing, however, I can’t just “call it”, say it’s over, and then decide four years later that – whups! I was wrong! Never mind – I’m back at work now!
The toothpaste metaphor breaks down here, though – I don’t have another career in the other room, bought in bulk at Costco waiting to be used. When I toss THIS tube, it’ll be over.
*My skiing is alive and well in Montana, it is true – but if Ethel ever wants to go to Mexico, I can let it go now. I really believe that I’ve reached that point in my orbit where I’m not going to get any better – where any improvement in technique will be more than offset by my declining physical abilities. So I’m cool with a hammock near the beach.