Right after I graduated college I started a series of temporary jobs. Living so close to Washington, D.C. meant there were endless possibilities for finding temporary work through any number of agencies. Temping appealed to me. If I wasn't certain exactly what I wanted to do after college, I was certain what I didn't want to do: watch the people around me gather dust on the commute to and from work and be stuck in the dreariness of a 9-5 existence. This, of course, is what I thought when I was 21, and marking my time in a windowless office seemed akin to decomposing slowly while still alive. Temping meant I could be a dabbler; I could have one foot in the office world I was trying so hard to avoid, make money, but the other foot would be planted firmly on the outside and my head would be always turned to what I really wanted to do: see the world, be unconventional, fall in love, sleep on a beach, be famous, drink up life to the fullest every possible waking moment.
I think when we're 21 we can be forgiven for having this misplaced disdain for other people's jobs, this yearning for something Bigger and Better; this is the hubris inherent in being young, and it's a rite of passage of course. When we grow older we slowly realize that maybe we're working one of those jobs ourselves, and that it's not the job that dictates who you are and how you live your life, but what you carve out for yourself, what occupies the space around your work: your family, your precious children, your dreams, your hobbies and loves; or moments lived, like spotting a full moon from the back deck of your first home--the one you saved up money to buy--or waking up to the anticipated pleasure of warm croissants and some new coffee, or a morning commute that starts out so everyday and then no sooner do you yawn at the first stoplight, grouching to yourself that it's Monday or Tuesday or dreary old Wednesday, when you look up and see something surprising and unexpected: a glider plane dipping and looping against the pink-streaked clouds above the mall, commuters in the cars next to you turn their faces, eyes transfixed on that sudden shared and unexpected gift, that symbol of untethered freedom that you all carry with you into that day.
But back before all this, this growing up into happiness and contentment with life and with myself, I temped and rode the metro and worked with people like Dolly, an imposing woman who was all gruff, short replies, but answered the telephones with a voice like honey and sunshine, and Joe, a short energetic Italian-American man who buzzed around the office barking orders and Elizabeth, who telecommuted from home because her first child had been born with cerebral palsy and she didn't want to leave him just yet, and Michelle, who had kids in elementary school and read cooking magazines during lunch hour, and Dave with the over-sized glasses and nasally voice, who liked to draw cartoons in his spare time.
We can't all of us be up there, doing lazy circles and loops above the morning traffic; most of us are down here, anchored to our many worlds, invisible ropes holding us down as we perform the rituals and patterns of daily life. I don't know if I ever truly expected to be that person in the glider plane, the one other people envy as they sip their coffee and listen to morning talk radio, but it sometimes catches me by complete surprise that I should be here, in this good place. I hope that when my kids grow older and restless--as they will, I'm sure, that I will smile inside and wish them all of their dreams and more. I will wish them the power to find joy in their own spaces, whether they be small or large, and that they will have the contentment to be a Dolly, or a Michelle or a Dave or, even, a me.