All Things Must End (Even This Year)

And so anoth­er year comes to a close, and with it the first decade of this much-vaunt­ed third mil­len­ni­um.

A lot has hap­pened in these ten years. Some build­ings got knocked down by hijacked air­planes in 2001: that was quite a dire start to the decade. As a result — or using that trag­ic event as a thin excuse, if you pre­fer — the coun­try of my birth has been at war in far-away lands ever since, as well as hap­haz­ard­ly slap­ping togeth­er an end­less and impo­tent cul­ture of fear in our own part of the world.

The end of that year saw the end of a long but future­less per­son­al rela­tion­ship for me, but I entered the new year full of hope, and in Jan­u­ary of 2002 I found the love of my life. In 2003 I got mar­ried to her, and after a brief year of lov­ing cou­ple­hood we became par­ents togeth­er, and then three years lat­er it hap­pened again, and now, three years lat­er, it is hap­pen­ing yet again. (I’m real­ly not sure how this keeps hap­pen­ing.) Mar­ried life, fam­i­ly life, has been a lot of things, but most­ly it has been real, and that is good.

My pro­fes­sion­al life, too, has cov­ered a lot of ground in these ten years. At the start of the decade I was just becom­ing a low-lev­el man­ag­er at a Barnes & Noble store. Four years lat­er I made the leap, neces­si­tat­ed by the recent birth of my first son, to a soul­less cubi­cle job shuf­fling through thou­sands upon thou­sands of mort­gage files and prepar­ing them for archiv­ing in a vast gray ware­house. That near­ly destroyed my soul, but for­tu­nate­ly I was res­cued, thrown a life­line, and I escaped to the tiny data­base sup­port team in the same build­ing, where I was able to learn a whole set of skills I had no idea I would ever encounter, and far more impor­tant­ly I was able to work with a group of peo­ple who real­ly cared about each oth­er, and made work­ing togeth­er some­thing joy­ful. I will always miss that aspect of that time.

But the voice of voca­tion was not silent in my life, despite years of neglect on my part, and in 2009, with the sup­port of my wife, I final­ly set foot upon a path I had been pulled toward for quite some time: the study of canon law, prepara­to­ry to a life work­ing as an expert in the inter­nal law of the Catholic Church. I am now in the midst of my first year of grad­u­ate stud­ies in this area, hav­ing left all my gain­ful employ­ment behind and thrown myself on my local church for the sup­port of myself and my grow­ing fam­i­ly; I can hard­ly say how grate­ful I am that they have been so will­ing to catch me and hold me (so to speak). It has been an excru­ci­at­ing­ly chal­leng­ing time for my fam­i­ly, but the light is start­ing to shine bright­ly through the clouds once more, and there is much to hope for in the years ahead.

And now the decade is over, and in the morn­ing a new one will dawn. What will the next year, and the next ten, hold for me? I cer­tain­ly could have pre­dict­ed very, very lit­tle of what tran­spired over these past three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-two days, so I won’t even pre­tend I have a clue what to expect from the com­ing three thou­sand six hun­dred fifty-three turns of the globe. But I am sure hop­ing that I can make a sim­i­lar­ly san­guine report to each of you at the oth­er end of this decade, too.

Hap­py New Year, every­one. Don’t stick beans up your noses.

Giving Beaner a rest

It seems incred­i­ble that a dozen years have passed since the first issue of The Float­ing Egg rolled off the print­er and out through the mails to meet an unsus­pect­ing world. In those black and white pages, crowd­ed with ram­bling sen­tences (and par­en­thet­i­cal asides), a young writer found his space to grow, to find his voice, to exper­i­ment, and to thrive.

As he gained con­fi­dence and read­er­ship (and who can say which led to the oth­er?), the page count grew, and so did the mail­ing list. It was a beau­ti­ful, heady time to be a young man putting words out into the world to be read, just past the peak of the ‘zine era, and Bean­er threw him­self into desk­top pub­lish­ing with shame­less aplomb.

But then col­lege was over, and while life cer­tain­ly con­tin­ued to be very inter­est­ing, Bean­er spent far more ener­gy liv­ing it than he did writ­ing about it, and The Float­ing Egg shriv­eled, and ulti­mate­ly died, large­ly from neglect, an endem­ic lack of focus and ded­i­ca­tion to any­thing but the con­tin­u­ous cir­cuit of local water­ing holes. The silence that ensued was large­ly reflec­tive of the utter lack of out­put on the part of the erst­while writer.

And then he dis­cov­ered Blog­ger, and the spark burst into flame once again. While this blog has always been spo­radic at best, there have been some ter­rif­ic moments along the way, and it has been most inter­est­ing to see the voice on these posts move fur­ther and fur­ther beyond the fre­net­ic lim­i­ta­tions of the col­lege-age Bean­er, lim­i­ta­tions that — for bet­ter or worse — formed a vital part of the per­sona. So per­haps it was inevitable that, at some point, the writ­ing must go on and on, and Bean­er must even­tu­al­ly fall by the way­side. That day has at last arrived.

So, Bean­er, we salute you, and bid you a fond Adieu. Thanks for the many, many, many words, and may the best parts of your spir­it con­tin­ue to live and grow in these pages.

Hitting bottom, ready to soar

I am going to look very dif­fer­ent soon. Those of you who knew me in col­lege, or any­one very knowl­edge­able regard­ing my per­son­al his­to­ry, will remem­ber that a week before my twen­ty-first birth­day I had my right-front tooth extract­ed. No dra­mat­ic fight, no col­or­ful acci­dent, just an abscess — a rag­ing infec­tion at the root of the tooth that could not be cured, only removed. That entire sum­mer and the Fall semes­ter of my senior year I wore a flip­per, a sin­gle-tooth den­ture mount­ed on a piece very like a retain­er which I affixed to the roof of my mouth with straw­ber­ry-fla­vored Fixo­dent®. Ini­tial­ly it was a demor­al­iz­ing dis­as­ter to my self-image, but I got used to it in time; even­tu­al­ly I was com­fort­able enough to make light of it, to pop out my flip­per in the cam­pus cafe­te­ria in order to eat more com­fort­ably, to make jokes about my gap at sem­i­nary func­tions. (And I will say this for Fixo­dent®: it can stand up to some very intense make-out ses­sions…)

And then the ordeal was over. Thanks to the benef­i­cence of two priest friends, I went to a new den­tist over Christ­mas break and was fit­ted with a beau­ti­ful all-porce­lain bridge, a piece of pros­thet­ic den­tistry that would win admir­ing com­ments from every sub­se­quent den­tist I went to over the next nine years. I could return to nor­mal func­tion­ing, and I did.

Fast for­ward to Labor Day, 2008. After a long and recre­ation-filled hol­i­day week­end my wife and I are snack­ing on left­overs as the evening begins to wind down. I have just spread some deli­cious Brie on a hunk of crusty bread torn from a loaf that is prob­a­bly three days old. I bite down, and the hor­ri­fy­ing crunch that fol­lows brings my mel­low-train to a grind­ing halt. I know instant­ly what has hap­pened, for at some deep lev­el of my sub­con­scious I have been both dread­ing and expect­ing this day for a long time. My beau­ti­ful, func­tion­al bridge has shat­tered, shear­ing off one of the adjoin­ing teeth at the gum line, leav­ing me with a jagged gap twice as wide as the one I had endured near­ly a decade ago. I was not thrilled. And my poor dear wife, who had not known me back then, was sud­den­ly con­front­ed by a hus­band with a very dif­fer­ent appear­ance than she was used to.

A cou­ple weeks lat­er I arrive at the den­tist of my choice for my first post-shat­ter exam. I could have got­ten in at any num­ber of Twin Cities den­tal offices quick­ly, prob­a­bly even first thing the next morn­ing. But there was no pain, at least not phys­i­cal, and after care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion I decid­ed that at the age of thir­ty it was time I start­ed to make some seri­ous choic­es about my own life and well-being, and this was as good a time to start as any. Fif­teen years ago my par­ents drove me four hours across two states to have my ortho­don­tic work done by a den­tist whose phi­los­o­phy they sub­scribed to. After much care­less pere­gri­na­tions in my post-col­lege care choic­es, I felt deeply that now was the time to return to what I could tru­ly believe in, even if it meant delay, trav­el, and expense. It is time to grow up this year, and I am doing so one painful step at a time.

And then the bad news; news I had­n’t con­sid­ered a pos­si­bil­i­ty but was not the least bit sur­prised by. The X‑rays revealed clear­ly that the two front teeth on the left side of my upper jaw — cor­re­spond­ing to the two on the right that are so glar­ing­ly gone for­ev­er — are bad­ly abscessed. There aren’t a lot of options. I could have root canals, but leav­ing a dead tooth to linger in my jaw, even­tu­al­ly to cause trou­ble down the road, seems a rot­ten sort of choice to be offered, which leaves the oth­er option, the one I am going with: extrac­tion. In a few days or weeks, when­ev­er I can get in at the oral sur­geon, I will have a sym­met­ri­cal gap in my upper jaw where God once put four teeth, teeth I was unable to keep healthy and so, ulti­mate­ly, was unable to keep.

I will nev­er bite into an apple again, nor will I ever again enjoy corn on the cob. Big gourmet ham­burg­ers will now be more trou­ble than they are worth, and I will be eat­ing piz­za with a knife and fork from here on out. Oh, I will even­tu­al­ly look pre­sentable. My new flip­per will hold four plas­tic teeth, and my wife will get her chance to put Fixo­dent® to the test. But it will be a façade, just for show. I will nev­er get to for­get that my head has a lot few­er teeth in it than I was orig­i­nal­ly issued.

Yes, I want­ed to cry this after­noon after I left the den­tist’s office. But I am not cry­ing now. I am pret­ty okay, as okay as I think I could pos­si­bly be with­out cross­ing the line into creepy-calm. Yeah, life is going to be hard­er for me on a prac­ti­cal, day-to-day basis. I am going to have to get over my appear­ance yet again, in an expo­nen­tial­ly-big­ger way, and remem­ber not to fright­en chil­dren with my shock­ing­ly-incom­plete smile. But I know that this is not my fault, not some­thing I chose to do. And it reminds me strong­ly, forcibly, that there are things I can choose to do, that I want to do, that I can no longer leave for lat­er. Now is the time to live delib­er­ate­ly, now is the time to pas­sion­ate­ly pur­sue the dreams I have scarce­ly dared to dream. There is no “lat­er” to wait for, no “even­tu­al­ly” when these things will take place. I need to act now, and every­day hence­forth, to achieve the life that I will find ful­fill­ing, the life that I am called to live.

I told my wife that in the moment that my cos­met­i­cal­ly-func­tion­al bridge audi­bly shat­tered, so too did my com­pla­cen­cy. I can no longer sit back and wait for my life to hap­pen. I am no longer con­tent to coast along the path of least resis­tance. I am no longer sat­is­fied with sub­sis­tence liv­ing for me and my fam­i­ly. I know well that, like my appear­ance, the road ahead will be rough, even ugly, but it will also be real, gen­uine, and ulti­mate­ly this new path will lead me to a place where I can be tru­ly proud to be who and what I am, where I can look into the mir­ror and say to my reflect­ed self, “I am liv­ing ful­ly a life that I am proud to live.” I can stand to lose a few teeth if I can make that hap­pen.