Thursday, August 19, 2010
The Sea of Life
Over the weekend I went to a birthday party. It was a celebration of my niece turning 18 and watching her I could almost see her looking expectantly toward a brand new life in the big, wide world. I remember that time of life. I remember standing in the tiny bedroom of my suburban Indianapolis home, looking out the south-facing window late at night. Over the asphalt shingles of suburban sprawl I could make out a single beacon – the flashing red light atop a water tower that stands in Gustafson Park. I'd stand, elbows resting on the windowsill, and watch the light flash out a message only I could interpret.
"The magic is out here." It would flash. "It's waiting on the edge of the night, just beyond the farthest you've ever travelled."
On a cool autumn night, the first breath of approaching winter would waft through that window and I could feel myself changing; turning away from the stale world of childhood and toward the hopeful dreams of adolescence. In that instance I knew the magic was out there. All I had to do was put the safety of home behind me and embrace uncertainty. I became a boat straining at its moorings, drawn by an unseen current that would carry me away from the harbors of my life and onto the open sea. That's what eighteen is – it's being filled with yearning, it's sailing beyond the reach of parental lighthouses and relying on your personal compass. My personal voyages on the Life Sea have been fraught at times. Disappointments, betrayals, and failures are the reefs and rocks that lurk beneath the waves but the glorious feeling of being the helmsman of your own life makes the risk worthwhile.
So, as I write this I sit in my half-disassembled office in a building that will be closed down in forty two days. For over a year I've been heading toward this day – the day when out of the hundred-plus people I worked with only twenty five are left. The facility seems huge and any time I venture into the hallways I'm left feeling like a widower rattling around a big house that used to be filled with life. Each empty office houses a ghost. There's the polite and old-fashioned woman who used to work in Inventory, the guy who could have been the original absent minded professor, the guy who acted as my guide for the first two months I spent at the company, and a hundred others moving silently through the empty hallways. I wonder how long they'll linger once the doors are locked. I wonder if the next tenant will sense their presence and get the shivers.
I'm staying behind to the end. At the end of the week my desk will be moving on, heading for its new job in California. I, on the other hand, will be bunking with the ghost of a former coworker. We'll share stories of the way it used to be for awhile and then I'll get back to work and she'll take her chains out to the foyer for a good rattling. Sometimes the open sea plays tricks on you and you have to sail on, always heading forward, always charting the course toward the magic.