90,000 Miles to Me

33,282 Miles • On Being Guinan

I’ve spent the last two weeks at my mom’s, visiting with her, relaxing some, and working on a bunch of little van projects, shrinking my to do list considerably.

I also completed my first observation challenge as a budding amateur astronomer, the NASA 50th Moon Landing Anniversary Challenge. I had to find and sketch the locations of each of the Apollo landing sites, which I was surprised and delighted to find out can be done with a good pair of binoculars. I was actually able to see quite a bit of detail on the surface of the Moon from the living room window of a house in the city.

I’ve been steeped in the Apollo landing anniversary all summer, starting when I visited the excellent space history museum at The Cosmosphere, then attending a 50th Moon Landing event in Maine, reading Moon Shot by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton and A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey by Michael D’Antonio, watching multiple documentaries on the topic—I recommend Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo—besides getting outside to view the skies whenever I could. So when I ran across this observing challenge on the Astronomical League’s website, I was excited! It would be a personally meaningful way to declare my entry into the wonderful world of amateur astronomy.

Which is about as much astronomy as I want to do. I’ve been whining for a while about not making it a career, but I realized recently that I don’t have to make a professional commitment in order to enjoy it. And I don’t have to suppress my interest anymore just because it isn’t my career, either. I can enjoy it the way I do lots of other things: just for the fun of learning.

This one particularly stung because I wanted it so badly, and in order to suppress the hurt, I had to suppress the want. So I pushed it down and ignored it and only occasionally read a magazine article when one would come across my path, but did not seek them out or pursue answers to questions that I would think of occasionally, as as I would with any other interest.

Now that those old wounds have healed, I can enjoy it again. It doesn’t have to become a professional commitment in order to engage with it, and I can do a little here and there without chiding myself for not doing it all the time. Like, you know, a hobby.

I have to laugh at myself because it actually took me a few days to figure out there was a word for this. For something that you do because you enjoy it without it having to matter a whole lot.

That’s not how I usually usually operate. I often put way too much weight on every little thing, even when there is no external pressure or reason, but I’m starting to do that less and it feels really nice. It is opening possibilities that I hadn’t explored before.

See, I am making progress. It’s just in a different direction from the path of career, status, achievement, and wealth that our society puts so much emphasis on, and although I believe without hesitation that what I am doing is worthwhile, I have had to remind myself over and over that I’m not falling behind on something critical. The strongest evidence for that are the many good fruits from this Journey that I am already seeing, and I have realistic hope for even more.

Yet I have continued to judge myself by a standard that has meant something to me only because I think that other people think it should.

But what if I were able to let that go? Really let it go, not just suppress it, but genuinely let go of career, status, etc. as a proxy for my worth as a person? That would be incredibly freeing.

It would allow me to do all sorts of projects that I want to do that don’t necessarily build toward some predefined goal, and may be in multiple directions or fields, yet will bring me joy by utilizing my talents, creativity, and skills in ways that excite and motivate me and help others.

Shouldn’t that be enough?

Letting go of the worry about career wouldn’t leave me floundering and unmotivated, although it is often presented that way. Our economy seems to be based on the notion that the only way to get work out of people is to frighten them, and I find that notion itself terrifying.

I work in the opposite way. When I feel like I am being pushed into something, I push back and drag my heels and complain and accomplish very little. But when given free reign, I do more work than any boss or teacher would ever ask of me. And I have more ideas for projects that excite me than I could ever have time to do, which means only that I will sadly have to say no to many good ideas in order to pick and choose the best among them and devote myself to those.

Would what that produces really be enough for me to look back on, after years of following that path, and be pleased with what I will have got? I don’t know right now, but I hope so. I would like to think that following my curiosity and joy and passion and motivation would produce some pretty awesome things, and that I would be far happier with those results than with passing time and paying bills doing something that does not also make me feel worthwhile.

Lately I’ve been feeling very close to the breakthrough that will finally leave that fear behind for good, but it has still been a niggling little fear.

Then I watched the Ted talk by Khalida Brohi, who has been putting herself in danger for almost half her life to save women from “honor killings” in Pakistan. She has done amazing things to empower rural women and change the attitudes of men, and you would think that would be the inspirational part of her message. It was, and not to diminish that in any way, what particularly struck a chord for me right now was one of her answers in the interview period after the talk.

At 15:12, Chris Anderson asked about her team: “I mean, you were all 16, 18 at the time [this started]. What did this team look like? This was school friends, right?”

She laughed, and replied, ” I was thinking, do people here believe that I’m at an age [mid-20s] where I’m supposed to be a grandmother in my village? My mom was married at nine, and I am the oldest woman not married and not doing anything in my life, in my village. People feel sorry for me, a lot of times.” 

Not doing anything with her life!? She’s saving lives and revolutionizing a country! And yet, in her culture, a woman’s value is dependent upon her marriage and children. No matter how well she does in other areas, that will still be the thorn in Brohi’s psychological side. In my culture, it is career, achievement, status, and wealth, and those have been causing my psychological distress. Yet those goals, from either culture, are not some kind of inherent truth, and hearing Brohi voice her latent fear made that clear to me in a way that mere intellectual acknowledgement has not been able to achieve.

After stewing on this for a few days, the clincher came when I realized that what I am doing in my life right now, with this Journey, is being Guinan.

Guinan was the wise bartender who ran the lounge aboard the USS Enterprise-D, and a good friend of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Guinan was more than 500 years old, had traveled to more parts of the galaxy and experienced more than humans could possibly imagine, and yet, for the moment, she chose to be on the Enterprise as a bartender and informal counselor. She could be anywhere, do just about anything, and she chose to be there.

I could do lots of things with my life. I am choosing to do this right now, for my own good. I want to be intentional about how I live my life, and this Journey is exactly what I need right now, so that I can do what I need to do and learn what I need to learn to build the life I want to live.

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