Since I found myself recounting this story over the weekend yet again, I felt it was finally time for me to write about here. I'd shared the general story a while back as a comment on Dangerous Harvests for a post titled "Just Die Completely". Nathan's post was full of some good info and perspectives so if you like this check his out especially if you're a little bummed about life right now.
The summer before my junior year of high school, my family found out we would be moving to a new city about a thousand miles away. A lot of people might think of this as a new and exciting opportunity; a chance to experience a new world and make new friends.
We did not.
As a family, there were some pretty big issues to deal with. We had roots. Most of our extended family lived where we were. I had lived my whole life in houses no more than ten miles away from each other. My dad would be moving in November and we wouldn't follow him until the summer after.
The few good friends I had I had known since kindergarten. I didn't know how to make friends easily (and still don't) since nearly all of my activities had revolved around essentially the same twenty classmates until high school and even then I had classes with pretty much all the same students.
I knew my future was going to be different, I just thought that my past was my past and there was nothing anyone could do to take that away from me. The more I thought about how much of an investment I had made of my past for the future, that changed.
Some of the smaller examples were things like not graduating with my high school class. Where I came from, which high school you went to (for reasons I'm still not sure I understand) is apparently one of the most important things people want to know about you. What was I to say? My class ring was from one school, but my diploma would be for another. Should I even bother getting a letter jacket? It wouldn't come until just before I moved away and I couldn't wear it at another school, especially one that no one had heard of.
I'd put off dating (not initially so much of a conscious decision, but it was still a reason) until I would be able to drive. It didn't seem very "adult" to have to rely on parents to drive me and a date around. Now that I was going into my junior year with that ability, I didn't see the point. Why would I start a relationship knowing that I would have to end it in less than nine months? So I saved myself the trouble and did without.
The biggest blow was that of choice of university. I'd pretty much planned where I wanted to go to school for as long as I knew of it as a possibility. It was within walking distance of my home so I could live off campus. They offered programs that I was interested in. I didn't even bother seriously considering any other school. It was expensive, but only enough so where living at home would be enough of a break to make it possible. Moving a thousand miles away made that not such an easy choice.
So slowly I watched my future fall away in front of me like a road collapsing into the void. Looking behind, my past followed. I found myself adrift in the emptiness of time. I was starting to find myself as a person but the identity that I had built for my future self in the past no longer mattered since my future was now gone.
There was a numb sadness, a fear that I didn't recognize. There was no anger, only the helplessness of an overturned turtle. I was still just a child, a teenager yes, but I had no real say or power in the situation. My only option was to accept it.
And I did my best to do just that. My life kept going, I made new friends, experienced things I hadn't even dreamt of. There are still echos persisting in my life, even to this day. But they're not all bad; depending on how I view them they're quite good.
While I didn't realize it at the time, this was my first, and in some ways, most important lesson in the Dharma. I didn't have the tools to wrap my mind around it at the time, but this is impermanence. That feeling of drifting, disconnected from the past and the future was a "little death" and it was very powerful.
In a way it was also freedom, though, the freedom to become a new person which I did somewhat. I'm a very habitual person. I fall into a habit and it's very difficult to get out. It doesn't matter how destructive it may be, it still feels somewhat comfortable. This taste of freedom was only a taste, though. It would take me another fifteen years of life to see the true potential of what started cooking so long ago.
I didn't have my practice to rely on, or any teachings like I do now to help me get through all of that, but I did alright. Now I'm fortunate to have the tools I do and with the grounding of that experience, I also have the perspective to see every moment's possibility for a "little birth." Each moment is a new opportunity to change myself for the better, to shake bad habits and build new ones.
It's important to remember the universe doesn't make distinctions. The Dharma just is. While it may be warm and comforting, it can also burn like hellfire. We experience what we need. All those Zen masters prone to beating their students or pushing them out windows, they weren't sadistic. That was compassion. They did what needed to be done for their students to wake up.
I try not to regret my experiences as bad, any of them. I have no more control to change them than I did to prevent our relocation all those years ago. I can only do what I can do. So that's what I'll keep on doing.
This, of course, isn't an excuse to slack off, it is in no way resigning myself to fate or falling into predestination. It takes effort, unwavering effort, to do all that I can do. I still have a choice, it is still freedom. I can always just relax and let things happen, but there will be consequences. "Freedom isn't free" as they say, it comes with a price.
So with fifteen years of experiences and results to reflect on, I'm okay with what happened. I am who I am today because of it. The person I wanted to be doesn't exist and I'm fine with that because it wouldn't be me. How often do things really turn out how we expect them to anyway? And even if they do, do we still feel the way we thought we would when they happen?
Make the best of life, look around and be happy knowing that while it could get worse or it might have been better, it could also get better or it might have been worse. Even this doesn't matter though, because we don't live in the past or the future. We live now.
So live now.