I’ll Be Present Later
The other night Colin cooked dinner – crock-pot chili, heavy on the beans, light on the tomatoes. It’s part of his low carb, no sugar, athlete’s diet. Tastes pretty good, too.
“How do you feel about Vancouver?” I asked from my desk, which takes up the little dining nook next to the open kitchen.
“It’s a long way from California. And it’s cold.”
“It doesn’t even snow there.”
“The ocean is cold. How would I surf or scuba dive?”
I repressed a sigh. He’s always talking about surfing or scuba diving, but I’ve never seen him do either in the year we’ve been together. Of course, he’s trapped in the Inland Empire, a less than convenient distance from the coast. I don’t know how much of this is just a dream – like the middle-aged guy who buys a Harley and drives it once. Besides, I’m far away from my family and living near the ocean will ensure that is always the case. Why should his family get priority? It’s not a very charitable thought, full of envy and resentment, and I try to make it go away. Again.
“Well, I’m looking at doctoral programs, but none of them fit very well. Canadian universities are more flexible, more like the British system than the American one. I need to know where I can look,” I tell him, feeling trapped.
“Look wherever you want,” he tells me, but that feels like a trap, too.
“I can’t do that. You’ve already ruled out the entire middle part of the country. There are good Buddhist studies programs at Wisconsin and Michigan, but you don’t want to live there.”
“I thought you were looking at the Bay Area?”
“I am, but there’s a limited number of schools there. As I research them, I’ll probably discover at least some won’t work, or they may not accept me. I need to find the best program I can, because that’ll help me do the best dissertation, which means I’ll be able to get a good professorship afterward.”
“Well, apply to wherever you want,” he tells me again.
“And if you don’t want to live there?”
This goes on for a while. What about New England? What about Seattle? But that’s not actually what we’re talking about. He settles down on his knees in front of my chair, chili forgotten for a little bit.
“It sounds like you want to get exactly what you want and have me just give a blanket agreement that I’ll quit my job and go with you. I want to support your dream and I’m willing to move, but I just want to stay close to my family and close to the ocean. I don’t want to hold you back. And if it comes down to me or the perfect program, I have a feeling you’d pick the program because its what you’ve always wanted to do,” he says. I could almost cry. I don’t know if he’s just not that into me or if he’s that insecure about how much I’m into him.
“Well, I want to do other things, too,” I tell him. “I want to do you and us and this relationship. It’s not that simple. I just don’t want to get my heart set on a program and then realize it’s you or that.”
He smiles a little. “I want to do you, too.”
I feel like I’m being selfish. He’s willing to quit his job and move with me wherever I’m going – whether that’s to the Navy or to a chaplain’s job or to a doctoral program, the plans have been in flux lately – he just has two requests, that I try to stay near his family and stay near the ocean. Failing that, we should try to get back within a few years. Basically, this means California is the goal. If I’m not joining the active-duty Navy, California gains a resurgent priority. He likes the plan to go into the Navy Reserves and start my PhD right away better, but he still doesn’t want to move to Canada. How will he get a job there? Will his skills even be applicable? Valid questions.
I take the time to explain it better, calmer, more detailed. I explain what I want to study with my dissertation, how difficult a fit that is for traditional religious studies departments, how I might need to look at other departments, but it’s not a great fit there either, how it will depend not only on the department and program, but also on the specific faculty at that university, their areas of expertise, their level of interest, and their availability. So many variables. He understands my difficulty.
He talks about his dream, his childhood, his exile in this desert for the sake of a job he doesn’t even like. And I understand his requests better. I like his family. He’s close to them and I like that, too. He agrees to some compromises so we can spend a little more time with my family each year. He wants back what he had for much of his childhood, everyday in the surf and sand. I want that too, but I want the grass and sand of Nebraska. Except there are no universities in the Sandhills. And that’s not his fault. I agree to look more closely at the schools in the Bay Area, to do the deep research, contact the faculty, correspond with the program coordinators. But if they don’t work out, and I’ll wait until I’m sure they won’t, I’ll need to look elsewhere. I need to hedge my bets by applying to at least a dozen schools. But I’ll discuss things with him as I go along – rather than just planning things my own way and expecting him to tow the line. Oh, and we agree to get a dog after we move.
It’s hard. I’m spoiled. I’ve never had to account for anyone else in my plans. Well, except for a loud-mouthed cat, and she’s pretty easy. I realize how much time and energy I spend contemplating our relationship. What did I think about before this? Where has all that mental energy gone? My friends assure me this is normal.
It’s been quite a summer. I’ve had time to slow down and breathe and think. It doesn’t feel like that, of course. It feels like I’ve been busy, but I know that’s not true. It’s not true because my mind has shifted, and it only has time to do that when I have time to let it. So it feels busy, because resources previously dedicated to homework and student government have been set free. In their freedom, they were not idle, but rather obsessed with thoughts, dreams, and contemplations.
Mostly, I’ve been thinking of the future – not just planning for the future, but thinking of how I plan for the future, how I use those plans, how I dream and the role the future plays in my present life – how I mentally construct a reassuring future in order to assuage my present anxiety. Recognizing this truth has led me to reevaluate that future plan, realizing I made choices for their present utility rather than their future fit. Maybe I need to live with a little more uncertainty, prioritize the present over the future.
That’s what they’ve been telling me, after all, in these lovely Buddhist books and blogs I’ve been reading all these years. The present moment is all we have. I have such trouble living in it, though. I always think I’ll be present later. After my life has settled down. After I’ve arrived where I want to be. But as they say, wants are endless.
Colin helps me be present. I’m present with him, when we’re talking, hiking, rock climbing. He can pull me out of my head like no one else can. Even when we’re talking about our future, I’m more present than I’ve been all day while I was staring at doctoral program websites. If I can be that present with him, surely I can learn to be present with myself.