If all goes well, if the fates align and decide to grant us what we’re owed, right now while you are reading this, Lady Gregson and I are going to be waiting to board a flight that will air-sail us overnight to the Emerald Isle. (From time to time I must write these Signal Fire essays early, as travel doesn’t put me next to the equipment, or time, I need to write and record these.) When we land in Dublin, tomorrow morning bright and early, the day will be a monumentally special one. This day will stand out not simply because we’re once again heading to one of our favorite countries on earth to photograph a wedding, no, it’s because we’ll be meeting my baby sister McGraw and her husband at baggage claim, and what’s more, it will be her 40th birthday.
For years and years, the four of us have been talking about the need to go somewhere together, to take a wild trip off and away from the things we know and call familiar. We’ve been repeating the phrase “one day” so long, “one day” started seeming like an imaginary future that didn’t really exist at all. One day, became some day, became every other reason and excuse that life is just too busy, money is just too tight, there are too many reasons to stay. Life, my friends, does not care about your plans, it does not care about your one days, your some days, your we really shoulds. It cares not about what you promise to do when you’re in a better place, when it makes more sense, when you’ve overcome all the reasons for staying put, for putting off, for waiting until the time is “right.”
The time will never be right, and I know this now more than ever before. There will never be a perfect time with a perfect amount of money in the bank account or the perfect number of days off that can allow you to take the flying leaps your heart tells you to make. Life is so painfully, deliciously, exquisitely, heartbreakingly short, and it is far too scintillatingly, vitally, crucially, stunningly important to wait. “Life, is what happens to us while we’re making other plans,” said Allen Saunders in Readers Digest, long before John Lennon stole the sentiment and put it in his lyrics, and it couldn’t be more devastating, or more accurate. We have a really good list of things we want to happen, don’t we? We have a great dot-to-dot laid out before us, one thing then the next until we get to where we think we’re supposed to end up, until we see the things we think we should see, call our lists bucket lists and tell everyone how we’re going to tick them off one by one. Then what? Then come the delays, then come the tragedies, then come the oops, the hang on a minutes, then we look up and it’s been 10, 20, 30, 40 years since we were those wide-eyed high schoolers making big promises on the back pages of little yearbooks, and we’re still waiting, still hoping the stars will align in just the right way to get us to where we swore we’d get.
We get one shot in this skin, and it is up to us to take it. We get one lap around in these funny little suits of flesh and hair and laughter and tears, and I’m here to say one thing, and say it as plainly as possible:
The time will never be right, the money will never be enough, the reasons to stay will always be louder than the reasons to go, but still….WE MUST GO.
To see the world is a beautiful thing, a revelatory experience that transforms the people we were, those we are, into the people we have always needed to be. It opens us, to the great big heartbeat of the planet, and reminds us that however different we may seem, we’re all the same. Exact same, really, when you break it all down to its most rudimentary bits.
This time, this hour, this day, is the time to go, the time to turn plans to reality, dreams to actions. Lady G and I don’t do bucket lists in traditional senses, instead we do what could only really be called a reverse bucket list, if you want to call it something because you’re the calling things things kinda person. What we do is this: We say yes to as many things as possible, scary things, weird things, big things, little things, and we go, as often as we can. We lose money doing this, a lot of money over the last dozen years, but we go. Once there, once out there in some wild place, often far away from the things of man, sometimes, some beautiful times, we experience something that makes our breath catch and our hearts race and our eyes well up with tears and our bodies ache with uncontainable joy and reverence. Here, in these choking moments, we ADD an item to our Life List, instead of ticking something off. We add the things that are worthy to the strange scrapbook list of our souls, and we cherish that list more than all things.
There is no need to chase down the should haves, no need to tick off the did dos, instead, we go, we see, we live, and we listen to the universe giggling as it hands us another memory worth saving for as long as we’ve got these silly brains to save them.
I cannot tell you have to live a life, and I cannot pretend that I have it all figured out. I just know that in a few short hours, we’ll be stepping off the plane and hugging McGraw and screaming Happy Birthday to her through early morning Dublin air, and finally taking the trip we should have taken a dozen years ago.
To hell with the should haves, the could haves, the didn’t dos. Make them old, make them archaic, make them memory you don’t even bother holding onto. Do the thing, take the trip, waste the money, MAKE THE MEMORIES. Life is short, spend it wisely on those you love, and add as many things to your breathless list as you possibly can while there is still time.
Happy Birthday McGraw (tomorrow), we love you so very much.…hold onto your shorts, we have so much to show you.
There’s no other time,
no other chance to wander,
but this fleeting life.