Last week a friend called and asked me to coffee. He insisted on meeting that afternoon.
“I think I’m going to leave.” he said. “Just pack a small bag and move away.”
“What do you mean, leave?” I asked, genuinely confused. Across from me sat a man in his forties with everything you could want in a life. A beautiful family. A good job. A house in a nice neighborhood. Insurance.
“That’s what men at my age do when their dreams lie bleeding in the gutter, isn’t it? When they’re beaten to a pulp by the machinelike rhythm of their lives.” he said.
We didn’t speak for a few seconds as he took a long sip of coffee and stared out the window of the quaint coffee shop.
“What’s the point in staying? Love? Commitment? Responsibility? As I bang my head into the wall day after day serving masters who have no mercy.”
I had no idea he felt this way. But the look in his sleepless eyes signaled defeat. “Jesus, Mike, did something happen at work?” I asked.
“Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night thinking about blowing your brains out?” he asked.
I took a deep breath and looked down at my coffee.
He continued, “The mortgage company doesn’t bend. Taxes don’t relent. The government doesn’t give a damn about me. They don’t care if I die in a car wreck on my commute to work, or if my wife dies of cancer leaving me to raise the kids. They’re indifferent as to whether I miss my children’s birthdays because of travel related to a job I can’t stand but that keeps a roof over our heads. And for what? The great illusion of security? The dream of contentment? Ten days paid vacation every year? No, it’s the lure of the carrot dangling at the end of the string, my friend. And it’s a lie.”
I shifted in my seat with no words of comfort.
“In thirty years I’ll be a puff of smoke. What of my life will be remembered? What contribution will I have made that’s any more significant than an ant to a massive colony? None. So why does any of it matter? Seriously, do you know why?”
“I really don’t.” I said.
“That’s because it doesn’t.” he said. “What matters is the earth and the sea and the sky. And giving in to the stillness of those things. That’s why I’m going to leave. Move to the sea. Spend my days swimming.”
There was another long pause between us as he stared out the window. He was serious. Then he looked me and said, “Do you know what I love most about swimming?”
I forced a smile and shook my head.
“Holding my breath.”