So as I noted a moment ago, I’m sitting in a cafe on the border between TriBeCa and Battery Park City, two neighborhoods that in contemporary NYC tend to attract young people with (comparatively speaking) more money than they know what to do with, and some sense of direction in life (hence the money). And I’m at the big farm table looking at everyone else at the big farm table, all of whom are a decade or so younger than I am, and it occurs to me that everyone else at this table looks incredibly awkward.
There’s a young married couple, him in a dress shirt and glasses reading his New Yorker and her in her velvety sweatsuit reading the WSJ — and they look so pinched and uncertain, like they’re here because they had to get out of their house but they aren’t sure why. To their left is a slightly younger guy reading his own copy of the WSJ while he shops for long underwear on his iPad, and he too looks like he’s here because it’s Saturday morning and where else is he going to go? And the young dad (ridiculously young, 20 years younger than me), looking totally awkward as he tries to hold a squirming three-year-old.
I recognize the way these people look like they feel. I felt that way all through my twenties and partway through my thirties, constantly wondering Is this where I’m supposed to be today? and Am I doing this right? and Is this what I want? and Can people tell I feel this way? (yes) and, in my more meta moments, This feels like happiness, but is it really, and how will I know?
At some point, though, the frenzy tamped itself down, or more accurately I would say I stopped paying attention to it except in my most anxious moments. And then, at a moment in my mid-forties I can just about exactly pinpoint, it just disappeared. And now, aside from quick little flashes that I can almost ignore, I never feel it at all.
It’s not only about age, although partly it is. Some of it is about reaching a point where you make peace with the choices you made (and failed to make), accept that you can’t do everything (but can do a lot of things, and have already done some), and start to like the person you’ve evolved into being. I recognize that I’ve had lots of advantages, and used some of them. I also know I’ve squandered others, and that’s fine. I’ve blown opportunities because I was too nervous to take them on, wasted great things that happened to me with no purpose and no warning, hurt people and been hurt back, lost money due to my own stupid choices, but on the whole things turned out okay.
Half of me wishes I could say to these people across from me, hey, relax, this thing you’re terrified you’re doing wrong is your life, so you might as well just live it. But the other half goes, hey, that’s how people figure it out, they suffer through, so let them suffer.
Meanwhile, three more people have walked into this cafe with their own subscription copies of the WSJ. What’s up with that?