The First Day


The first day of a never-before-lived existence can be disconcerting in its lack of precedent.

Unsure what to do, having never done this before, we nervously twitch, standing on one foot and then the other, looking around at how others are acting, afraid of seeming clueless.

We have few expectations on ourselves, other than giving this our best shot. We know we will be clumsy, artless, unenlightened. It's the nature of first days. We cannot foresee what this unfamiliar situation will demand of us, and have no choice but to figure it out as we go.

Comfortable habits, those routines ingrained so deep in us we barely think or notice our steps, have ceased to exist for the moment. They are from a life we no longer live, now that we've begun living this, by necessity or choice. After we've been doing it a while, we should start to get the hang of it. It will become easier, subtler, more mundane… and gradually less crisp, distinct, colorful or vital. For now, we think about every step, keenly observing its instant effect, wondering if alternatives might work better, anticipating next time. As we grow accustomed, we will notice less.

Are those around us as fresh-faced as we? In our insecurest flashes, we imagine they all hold magic answers we can't find. They are brave and wise and self-assured. They must know something we don't. Is it their first day, too? Even if not, they had a first day at some point. Everybody does. We've all stood on the edge of a new life, staring shakily at its foreign features, fearful we'll never fit into it. Survival propels us to enter and try, or fear freezes us out on the perimeter.

Fake it 'til you make it, we're told, is the method for going through unpracticed motions until they net returns that sate us. But must we play a 'fake' to dare to take on something we are not yet skilled at? We can go through all those same unpracticed motions without pretending we're old pros, trading that deceptive poise for humble courage that admits its lack of expertise yet still shows up, investing all its efforts with a heart intent on learning. This vulnerable stance impresses those equally sufficiently courageous to admit they've been there, too—we all have—bringing us together in a common understanding of what human ingenuity requires. And those who sneer or catcall in judgment? They're not adept at being allies. The lack of generosity is theirs, not personal to us.

What other choice is rightful but proceeding through this day like a champ? With a past we can't return to and an empty field ahead, an absence of deploying our own agency toward creating an existence here would tempt disaster to us. Vacant lots attract no good (and heaps of trash besides). If we don't do something, others' actions will fill the space our passivity leaves—and some of those 'others' will be opportunists, bullies, folks with malevolent agendas. We must get to the task of building our future, or somebody else will do it for us, likely not to our liking.

But though our task may be unsettling, intimidating, and vast this first day, oh! the mammoth heaps of freedom contained herein. Because there's no inertia-feeding habit to overcome, we can start all over again. Because there's little prospect of immediate success, we can radically experiment with different modes and manners: nothing ventured, nothing gained, with nothing much to lose. Because we won't be going back to what we did before, we needn't assume the posture of that person who did those things. We are actively changing who we are, in this evolutionary midst, never to regress to being someone who had never been here, now that we're here now. We wade between identities, each impromptu act a brushstroke as we paint another up-to-date self-portrait.

On the first day, nobody knows who we are, not even us. We recall, too plainly, who we were… and, we must confess, we didn't like every single facet of that creature. That was then, though. This is not. Why attach so steadfast to the bygone parts we weren't pleased with? Who here knows those parts? We can reinvent ourselves without them. We can be that someone we'd believed we weren't able to, allowed to. We'll navigate this strange existence as a new, improved, in-progress prototype until this version becomes our reigning standard. Until then, we ground as best we can. Pillars of our character will hold us up; non-bearing walls and surface decoration stripped bare, down to the studs.

Ensuing days seem gradually less strange. Friends are made, and patterns established. Identities cohere. This new life we have built at last is not so alien. We take for granted, lost in thoughts that aren't quite so pertinent to what we're doing. We move by habit, giving up a vital freedom to create ourselves anew, again and again, in exchange for comfort. 'Comfortable' devolves, then, into unexamined, mindless, passive… every day too frightfully resembling the one before, if anyone would pause to notice.

Our only remedy? To start again, anew, today… and then, again, tomorrow… and again, again, each mindful waking one more first day, liberated from the trap of being who we outgrew in the act of living yesterday.