It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
By Mark McNease
I read once that the most revolutionary thing we can do is slow down … And now, in the woods, with darkness and animals just on the other side of the wall, I am doing that: slowing down. It is revolutionary. It changes and transforms.
It’s that time of year when custom encourages us to take a look back over the past twelve months and contemplate what we’ve been through. It’s always a lot. Have you ever reached the end of a year when there weren’t events of great significance? January begins with hope and December ends with surrender—that’s the annual passage we take again and again until the journey ends. Some of us lose loved ones, some of us change jobs, some of us find joy above and beyond simply waking up each morning slightly amazed we’re still here. I don’t know about you, but that’s really how I feel most days when I find myself conscious once more: what in the world is this? How did I come to be, and how am I able to ask that question? It’s as miraculous as anything will ever be.
I’d say a close second is the road outside our house. For this year, we entered a new and exhilarating phase: we moved from our apartment in New York City to our little house in the New Jersey woods. When I say woods, that’s exactly what I mean. This area is not a suburb. It’s not a town. It’s the woods, where cars dodge deer leaping across the road and the most common signs are the ‘No Hunting’ notices posted every fifty yards or so. You can sometimes see people walking—that’s how you meet your neighbors in a place like this—and lots of terribly serious bicyclists pedaling furiously along the hills. Cars pass by a dozen times a day, and the big Post Office truck pulls up to the mailbox almost every afternoon. Think about that. The mailbox. The kind you see along country roads that have little red flags sticking up when there’s something for the postman to take. This is what’s meant by rural, and it’s a little piece of heaven.
I’d been a city boy most of my adult life and never imagined wanting to live among trees and brush. Then, shortly after meeting Frank eleven years ago, I came to this house for a weekend and was instantly taken with the peace and calm. My love of New York City had cooled to fondness by then. I’d imagined myself going back to Los Angeles, or maybe Chicago. But Hunterdon County, New Jersey? I’d never heard of it, and now it’s home. The feelings I had coming here most weekends for the past decade are the feelings I now have every day: serenity in a world of increasing chaos. The chaos is still there, but I can watch it on TV or read about it online. Then I can turn it off and glance out the window where animals forage for winter shelter and stars emerge in a night sky invisible to the city eye.
All the things I’d loved about Manhattan for years are now things I look forward to experiencing in small doses. To paraphrase, it’s a nice place to visit but I don’t want to live there anymore. We’re subletting for a year, just in case, but I can’t imagine wanting to return to the concrete, noise, and relentless sense of hurry you find in the city. I’d noticed upon my arrival there twenty-five years ago how urgent everyone thinks life is, how crucial their tempo as they rush from one doorway to another. And what struck me—what strikes me still—is how unnecessary all that dashing is. Speed is not importance. Getting to the subway stairs or the office door or across the street three seconds sooner accomplishes absolutely nothing. But that is the beat of the city, the pulse that makes it so thrilling to so many.
I read once that the most revolutionary thing we can do is slow down. It’s the kind of insight that sticks with me, along with a few other catchphrases I live by. And now, in the woods, with darkness and animals just on the other side of the wall, I am doing that: slowing down. It is revolutionary. It changes and transforms.
I work at a grocery store. I drive down an empty country road at dawn to start my day. I wake to a stillness that cannot be found in a city, and I enjoy the revolution. That’s the kind of year it’s been.
Mark McNease is the author of seven novels, two story collections and various short fiction. He’s the co-editor of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), as well as the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.