I FEEL the cushion of dry grass beneath the ball of my foot, followed by a barely perceptible spring and release. I tuck my leg into the sling of cocoon-harness, skim saltbush, and lean into nothing. Surrendering my last point of contact with the earth, I hover low over a shimmering sheet of ocean. I drift. Life unreels in slow motion.
The office — in the last fortnight — has held a collective compulsive twitch. Tension tight and unyielding has bounced in destructive beams from wall to wall, office to office.
Restructure is a word that seizes a man of my age by the throat and squeezes both oxygen and positivity from his being. There comes a certain age when one’s skills, no matter how meticulously updated, are seen as obsolete. It’s the conservative delivery of them that appears to be where the lack lies; a working life of solid habits and philosophies that will not be bent or broken by the likes of reckless cowboys. Nowadays, it appears, flash and novelty are more highly valued than solidity and experience.
There is little I can do to change it. Each day I wait; floundering, uncertain, groundless.
I ride a blue thermal, a wide spiral upward. Behind me the horizon — punctuated by motionless cargo ships — stretches toward forever. I shift my weight; the world offers a different aspect. Just as a slide in thought can produce an entirely different internal view.
Up here I’m a winged witness, cocooned and lulled by distance. The suburbs bake beneath sloping rays of sun torching in from the west. Heat haze blurs the scene; soft shapes of terracotta and gold. Gardens exhale, vaporous grey-green. I see — mid-grid — the roof of our home, haloed by flowering gums.
Delia will be there now, having conquered yet another day of pedantic workplace politics. She’ll feed the cat, make herself a smoothie, and step out to jog through late afternoon heat.
Her routine never differs during the week. With relieved relish she peels the bank uniform away from her body only to be disappointed by what she sees beneath it. When I speak to her of my fears regarding the office she reminds me gently that life is a constant restructure.
“Look at my hips for example,” she says to me. Quirking an eyebrow comically.
“And these!” She points with indignation at her once pert breasts.
She jokes about the slide but, on occasion, I come across her gazing glassily in the bathroom mirror as if she barely recognises the topography of the woman reflected there. She works hard to maintain what once was effortlessly hers. But change churns on regardless.
I look to the cage of my bones where arms hold me in the triangular control frame. Sinew and muscles twist. I relax my grip. The once soft flesh — less spongy now — recedes back to sharpen knuckles and wrists; another small reduction of self. Delia’s not the only one. It happens to us all if we are lucky enough to get to middle age.
There’s an elasticity to time up here. An instinctive understanding that it’s all just a blink. Nothing more than a perception, a manifestation, a construction of mind; a swift and incandescent flight. All we believe to be permanent, secure, safe, and certain has never been any such thing. This is the story we tell ourselves, and each other, in a bid to feel grounded.
The only thing we can count on, truly, is change and impermanence. I relearn the lesson each time I glide out from a cliff launch.
Our kids live as if tomorrows will never run out. Our son Justin racks up debt as if he has several lifetimes to pay it back. Delia and I visited his mortgaged mansion for a gourmet dinner last night; all bells and whistles. We watch him navigate marriage, babies, and finance and — although it requires great restraint — we stick to the sidelines and do no more than observe. I find myself wobbling at times on that hairbreadth line between advice and interference.
It can be a struggle to stay on the right side of it, but I have discovered over the years that perception of actions and events vary depending on where we are placed in life’s landscape. I keep my counsel. We have instilled in them the values we believe will serve them best, we have to stand back now and allow them space for their wing span. There’s nothing easy about it. The gravel of life rattles beneath their feet and then hopefully — flanked by our love — they lift off.
Work, home-life, the kids … I can process, judge, analyse, theorise, and search for solution. I’m limited though, to my own personal narrative storehouse.
I have no real portal into the ideas, visions, wisdom, desires and dreams of others. I see when I’m up here — a speck riding high in sheer blue space — that there is no right and wrong. I am in no position to judge. In the overall scheme of life everyone and everything is paradoxically all important, yet minuscule and transient.
In the rush of a boomer, the concept of impermanence provides a sense of joy; permission to relinquish control which was only ever a delusion anyway. I inhale a sweeping sense of salty freedom. Let the universe take care of it; all happens in order and connectivity.
An aberrant crosswind can change your course when you least expect it. I’m learning — slowly — to ride the current rather than fight it. I wing toward the west now. A gold medallion of sun burns along the sinuous spine of Merewether Heights, the overflow drops out of sight toward Glenrock.
I’m reminded of Icarus. Regardless of the wisdom we assiduously gather and whether or not we choose to apply it, the fall — at some point in life — is inevitable. Time will melt us all. The glory is now, in flight. I relish it and hold faith that the landing will be soft.