There was a discussion in my peer group concerning the passing of Leonard Nimoy, and whether it qualified as “untimely.” It was pointed out that he lived to be 83 years old, well past the American average, and that he had, not ironically, “lived long” (as well as “prospered”). Given that fact, although we were not prepared to see him go, we should consider that he had lived well and fully.
Not surprisingly, this lead to more thoughts about death, specifically about those I have known who did not have a chance to “live long.” I have lost three friends from college now, bright people who were never able to fulfill their promise because they left this life too soon. I wondered what they might have accomplished given more time, and the thought reflected back: You have the time they didn’t. You’ve been given the chance they weren’t. What are you doing?
I like to say, “Don’t ask yourself where the time has gone. Ask yourself where it’s going.” And with me, as with most of us, it’s going toward working, commuting, catching up with “Downton Abbey”–and writing the occasional piece of fiction. I haven’t done anything great with my life, and odds are I will never make the difference in people’s lives that Leonard Nimoy made. Few of us ever have that opportunity, and fewer take it.
But that’s no reason to despair, or to panic, because as long as I’m alive, I may have that opportunity still. We look at famous people now and we recognize them, but who on that train knew the name J.K. Rowling the day she dreamed up Harry Potter? Did you know who Leonard Nimoy was before “Star Trek”?
I’ve seen it happen time and again: one day you’re in the dumps because it’s all going nowhere, and the next day you’re in a TV series, or you’re nominated for a Hugo, or maybe you just sell a story, and suddenly life is all about possibilities, and people know your name.
Some gain success early. It may build, it may peak and die away, leaving one to wonder what he’s going to do for the rest of a life that may already have seen its apex. The thing I’ve noticed about success, though, is that it’s never really in your grasp. The success I’ve gained in the last few years would look really impressive to the seventeen-year-old who first started writing sword-and-sorcery stories on a manual typewriter in his bedroom, but it’s not enough for me. I dream of being a full-time writer, but I know enough full-time writers to know that even that is only a step, not a culmination. So we keep at it. You have to; resting on your laurels is comfortable, but it never gets any better.
I’m pretty sure that I haven’t peaked already. I don’t know if I ever will. But I know that I will die trying. And that’s the way I want it.