Saturday, September 18, 2004

A Visit from Hurricane Ivan

The remnants of Hurricane Ivan hit town with a vengeance early this morning. Because I like to tempt cooling breezes into my apartment, I keep my windows wide open, so within mere minutes of Ivan's arrival, the curtains were muddied and the expansive sills and wood floors puddled and gleamed dangerously under gallons of filthy rainwater. But, being a Seattle native and because Seattle has a rainy reputation (undeserved, in my opinion), I was undaunted by Ivan's furious introduction to my home in New York City.

After closing the stubborn windows and mopping the floors, I bravely waded into the storm in search of this week's groceries while the darkened sky defibrillated around me, waters raced through the streets and rain bounced off my umbrella like thousands of arrows. By the time I squished my way into the nearly empty 99 cent store one block away, I was soaked but exhilarated.

Exhilaration. It felt good to stand in the downpour, rejoicing at the thunder and the rain and the wind until unexpectedly, I felt water leaking through the long-forgotten holes in the bottoms of my shoes.

Up and down the street, I could see my neighbors snuggled into their cozy apartments with their pets and kids, watching cartoons on TV. A few peeked out their windows at the rain or maybe at me, a lone and eccentric spectre passing nearly unnoticed through the chaotic landscape.

Oddly, while standing in the rain, I suddenly remembered that two years ago today and three thousand miles away, I was similarly exhilarated because I had successfully defended my dissertation. Even though that day also started out rainy, things were so different then! On that day, the rain was more of a fond farewell than the left-over tantrums of a hurricane. On that day, I was looking forward to the rest of my life; eager, happy, and full of pride that the culmination of all my efforts, all my sacrifices, all my heart-wrenching losses had finally paid off. I had beaten the odds.

Could triumph ever taste so sweet? For the first time in my life, I had accomplished something worthwhile, I'd attained what I'd always desired and worked so hard towards for my entire life. Now, I thought, nothing could possibly keep me from my promising future. My feeling that day was almost visceral, I was shedding that hated old skin of my terrible childhood and beginning anew, as a glorious butterfly emerges from a battered and ugly cocoon. In doing this, I changed myself forever, soaring out of the reach of the grasping fingers of my past that sought to reclaim me, to drag me down. I had defined myself with a respectable and respected career by pursuing my passions: science, birds and writing. Suddenly, my life was complete and I was an acceptable person.

Only ten days after I defended my dissertation, I packed my books and possessions into a single moving crate and I left the warm embrace of my many friends and my beloved birds, said goodbye to my lush home and boarded an airplane. I flew through night and into a New York City sunrise where, six hours after leaving the ground, I stepped into a golden September morning. I came, not knowing where I would live, not knowing a soul here, having never been east of the Rocky Mountains. I came to pursue my life's dream.

But today, unbelievably, I am contemplating the loss of everything I worked so hard for. Again. But now, most of my friends have moved on to house-buying, raising families and pursuing other interests and friendships. My beloved flock of birds that I dedicated so many years to is perpetually beyond my reach, redistributed two years ago to new homes all over the country, while some individual birds have now taken their place as part of the research collections at my museum. Now, I am selling the few birds that still live with me and soon they all will be gone forever. Volare.

When the last of my birds finally depart, my home will fly away with them and will be lost forever too, for my birds are the heart of my home. After they are gone, any place I reside will only be a temporary place to sleep at night, to keep a few clothes and books, to take a shower in the mornings before spending the day wandering or working aimlessly. Contemplating this sad existence makes me feel old.

Is aging is like this? Is aging an inexorable whittling away of all that is precious in life until nothing remains? Do people finally realize they are old when all that makes their lives worthwhile has vanished? If so, do those of us with a rich spiritual life live longer than those who do not? How do we exist when all that remains of us is an empty husk, a shadow self? Does food taste differently? Does a warm shower bring as much pleasure as it did before, when we were still fully alive? Can we ever again find joy in the springtime song of birds? In our shadow lives, can music and art speak to our absent souls?

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

2 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So call me dull, but what is your degree in? Ornithology? Zoology? Biology? I love your writing style; it has a lot of expression to it. Isn't walking in the rain so much fun? Thanks for opening a window into your world.

Jeff, Dallas, TX

2:22 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thank you, Jeff for your kind words. I am so pleased to know that I can bring pleasure to others through writing. To answer your question, my education is in zoology; my life experience is ornithology.

1:07 PM  

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