“I thought you’d outlive me,” his wife said.
The bench outside the hospice had a view of the evening sky. The asteroid, a fiery ball of white and blue, was now visible day and night.
“Me too,” said her husband.
She coughed. He pressed some tissues into her hand.
“I’m glad I don’t have to.”
“You want to be a hero?” Neo’s wife said. “Show some real courage. Stay with me and your daughter.”
Neo grimaced. “But what if he’s right, and none of this is real?” The red pill in Morpheus’ palm beckoned.
“Your responsibilities are real.”
Morpheus smiled behind his dark glasses. “But I’ll teach you kung-fu.”
It was my birthday yesterday. In his Hitchhiker Trilogy, Douglas Adams revealed that the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. The trickier proposition, of course, is figuring out the question that goes with the answer. In my younger days (as a 41 year old), I thought that — at least by family history — I’m well past my halfway mark, so maybe “42” answers the question, “what will I be when I grow up?” The glumly tempting implication was, “this is the end of my becoming.” But that was when I was young and foolish.
Now, I AM the answer. 42. And I now know that this is the year when my insights will “stick.” This is the year that, even if I’ve had the same realization a thousand times before, the ideas will motivate me to act. Example: yesterday, I went to a panel discussion of science fiction authors who had just published their first books, attended by mostly aspiring writers. Some of these authors had been working for more than a decade on their first work. All of them had “day jobs,” all of them had bills to pay. And they were all in agreement about how they got it done. They made the time. They were serious and passionate enough about this accomplishment that they used their problem solving skills to carve out the time to write, regularly. If it were easy, everybody would have done it. I’d heard that before, even agreed with it. But now, at the age of 42, when I am the answer, I finally get it.
I am the answer. It’s on me.
On nights like this when the wife is out of town, the wind is gusting, the windows are shaking in their panes, and out in the backyard, racoons or some other animals are chittering at each other, my 2-year-old turns to me, her eyes wide, and asks “what’s that noise?” And then she says, to herself as much as me, “it’s safe in the house.” That’s when I remember that I’m the adult here, the one who’s supposed to be absolutely certain that there’s nothing in the dark to fear, the one whose eyes don’t even flicker to the window when the wind makes bare branches go scritch-scratch against the glass. I’m the one who says, “yes my love — you’re safe.”