It was a pleasant afternoon in New York. Stephen (a.k.a. Sissy Carter) and I were wrapping up brunch al fresco as the sun was beginning to set. Dusk is the magical time of day that reliably draws Hell’s Kitchen queens out of their cocoons and unswervingly towards Happy Hour, like moths to a flame.
It’s also the perfect time to people-watch and participate in one of our favorite pastimes: Co-hosting a boozy, cunty, NSFW commentary on any of the unsuspecting fashionistas braving the walking the catwalk of 9th Avenue. Sissy and I imagine ourselves as two Super-models, much like Heidi and Tyra, bestowing our professional and constructive critiques on those in need. In reality, we’re closer to Statler and Waldorf, the two cantankerous judges from The Muppet Show, talking shit that no one wants to hear from a busted-ass cafe table on the street. Nevertheless, here we are.
Tonight was different. I hadn’t moved physically, but my thoughts had taken me a million miles away.
“Bitch? Do you see that shit? Sissy snapped. “Socks with Crocs. Are you gonna let that slide? What are you so busy thinking about?”
“Dying,” I said.
“Can you pay the bill first? I’m strapped.”
I have been thinking about death a lot — mine in particular. It turns out it isn’t as unusual or macabre as it sounds, especially as I reach middle age and realize I have more years behind me than I have ahead of me. Today is the oldest I’ve ever been and the youngest I’ll ever be. Read that again; it applies to you too, gurl.
What is there to think about? For starters, dying is expensive. How am I going to pay for it? In my current situation, the way I figure it, on the day of my funeral, I will have to work until lunch.
A wake is too expensive. I’ve decided to be cremated and spare my corpse the indignity of lying in state without shoes, wearing too much rouge, and not enough lip gloss. Nope, just a large picture of me and my ashes in a Chock-full-o’Nuts can
Will there be a memorial service? If so, who would come? My immediate family is tiny. My father is long gone, and if I outlive my mother, that leaves my sister, her husband, and three kids. That’s five people. I imagine some extended family would swing by. Unless it rains. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a large picture.
Will I have to paper the house? Do I need a casting agent to populate my “celebration of life”? I have a few friends, but I don’t know how many would wear long pants and shoes for the occasion.
Have you ever considered your mortality? More to the point, have you ever thought about the small dash between the date you were born and the date you died? The fact is that that minor, often overlooked, punctuation mark is EVERYTHING.
That dash/hyphen/minus sign, or whatever you want to call it, literally represents your entire existence here on Earth. Your contribution to society, your imprint on humanity, your legacy – wrapped up in one chisel strike upon your tombstone. That gives me a lot to think about. What about my contribution, my imprint, my legacy? I don’t know about you, but my dash needs some work.
For months I’ve been feeling stuck and stagnant, living small. The fearless tenacity and ferociousness I had in my twenties have faded. The survival skills necessary to carve out a piece of New York twenty-five years ago aren’t as sharp as they were. In comparing the kid I was to the man that I’ve become, I like the kid better.
I function through the day but without purpose or drive. I need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything of value. I want my life to mean something. I want to positively impact the world in a way that lives far beyond my years. I want to leave an imprint that touches, moves, and inspires future generations. But how?
Feelings of unfulfillment typically stem from various aspects of life, such as professional goals, personal relationships, family, finances, and overall life achievements. My mid-life crisis began with the realization that I hadn’t achieved as much as I thought I would. And the clock is ticking.
I discovered that one of my primary causes of feeling unfulfilled was a lapse or lack of self-discovery. In that instant, I’m momentarily transformed into Jean Valjean in my living room revival of Les Miserables and beg the question: “Who am I? (…. 24601!)”. Answering that question meant some soul searching; deep diving inside to re-discover or re-invent my identity. I had to reconnect with the boy I was to become the man I wanted to be.
What became clear to me is that it is always possible to create the life you want, no matter how old you are. I understand that achieving my goal of living a meaningful life and leaving a lasting legacy will take time, but it can be done. But how?
Here is the best advice I was given that got me started.
Re-explore your passions, interests, and desires. Be authentic. Don’t keep your true self hidden behind the facade of societal expectations or family responsibilities.
Find out who you really want to be and what you really want to do, and then align them with work you truly love.
Don’t let urgent matters displace important matters. Never put an urgent but unimportant phone call above the non-urgent but important chance to build a relationship.
Make “Self-development/Renewal” a part of your life’s mission statement. That includes physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual elements. If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else? Mama Ru’s got it right.
It is important to remember that every action we take impacts others and leaves a lasting mark – make sure it is a good one.
My favorite suggestion: Spend some cash on your dash. You can’t take it with you, so spend it like you stole it. (And I wonder why I’m broke).
I have a long way to go before my dash has some substance, but I’m making progress. I needed a change and a push, so I quit my lackluster job. I may be unemployed and broke, but I’m happier. I’ve vowed to find a job that aligns with my identity and what I want to achieve. Stay tuned.
I’m confident that we can change the world if we pursue our passions and dedicate our time and resources to the causes we believe in. That’s the legacy I’m after.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share your thoughts or suggest future topics at RyanRockfordNYC@gmail.com