In and Out

A patient escaped from the dementia ward where my father lives. The man, an Ichabod Crane look-a-like wearing a baseball cap and slippers, erected a complex, multi-tiered structure out of chairs, tables and a bench, and hauled his 80-something year-old body over a 12-foot-high wood slat fence, hurtling himself to freedom. They found him over an hour later, nearly a mile away. According to a nursing home aide, the patient repeatedly muttered: "I need to get out," but no one took him seriously.

I called my sister and told her about the escapee: "Half dressed and thoroughly demented and yet he built a bridge to freedom," I said.

She sighed.

"What's wrong with you?" I asked.

"I'm out of sorts and stuck in a rut," she yawned. "I need to get out."

Is it just me, or are we at an age when getting out becomes an unrelenting goal?

Just that morning I'd left myself a note to get out of a commitment at work. Also, I wanted to get out of jury duty. We want to get out of the rat race. Get out of a contract. We want to step out of the fast lane, go out on the range, break out of the mold. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, younger people seem equally intent on getting in. My children want to get in the best programs, schools, jobs. They want to be in on the big deals. They hope to get in to the right clubs, in on the ground floor, in the front of the line. I remember those days. At 22, I wanted to get in with the in group; I longed to be in my groove, in the swing, in my element. I wanted to socialize in the right circles. I also wanted to be in shape, in style and in synch -- and those are just the few that I can remember.

Seems to me we spend the entire first halves of our lives trying to get in, after which we seem equally compelled to get out. Why can't we just be happy where we are?

I have a friend who swears by the practice of mindful meditation. She said she learned how to live in the moment. She had quiet hands and a smooth face, proof enough, I thought, of inner peace. I decided to give it a try. "Clear your mind," she coaxed, "and focus only on the present." It's harder than it sounds. I tried. I really did. I closed my eyes. I concentrated on the feel of my breath as it entered my body, and then as it left my body. After three breaths, I was lightheaded and nauseous. My mind raced, my thoughts jumbled. I heard a million tiny cymbals clashing together. I was out of control! I snapped out of it, resigned that mindfulness was simply out of my reach.

Getting in, it seems to me, is infinitely more appealing then getting out. "In like Flynn" is positive, desirable, and appealing -- even though no one knows what the phrase actually means. As a comparison, listen to way Heidi Klum pronounces the word "out" on Project Runway. There is no subtlety in this example: one is alluring and the other is a prison sentence.

Unless we're locked in a ward, maybe we shouldn't try so hard to get out. Think about it: Who wants to be out of pocket, out of network, or worse, out of their mind? And, does anybody really need to be reminded that we are, all of us, running out of time? I'm switching sides. From now on, I'm going in.