What are you doing with yourself?

As IâÄôm sitting here, surrounded by cats, IâÄôm wondering why I woke up, wide-eyed and bitterly conscious at 3:40 this morning. I flicked my lights on and sat up in bed. I opened a book, because what else can you do at 3:41 a.m. but slip into someone elseâÄôs dreams? I sank my eyes into thick, water-stained pages that, when turned, sound like wind cracking the sails of a boat on breakneck water. ItâÄôs 6:03 a.m. and IâÄôve been unlocking the mysterious past of Oskar Schell, his father, mother, grandparents and a woman named Anna in âÄúExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close,âÄù a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. A sad door opened, and released one of the novelâÄôs truths, plunging me to tears. There have been a few bleak mornings in the past that I have sat awake with only a dim portion of the population, aside from the squirrels, who are always busy foraging at the crack of dawn. On one previous occasion, I had a sudden urge to talk to my mother, to make sure that she knew that I loved her, via text message, which she has trouble receiving and functioning, often telling me that she loses them, or can only read the first four lines; last week she called me, asking, âÄúIâÄôd get a kick out of what? Was there more to that?âÄù I told her she needed to keep scrolling. Exactly two weeks ago, she sent me a message with every letter spaced out. All it said was âÄúf-l-u s-h-o-t. âÄú She was hoping I had gotten one. I had not. IâÄôm iffy about mass vaccinations. As IâÄôm sniffing salty tears into my nose, I hear my roommateâÄôs alarm clock chime for the fifth time, breaking my asphyxiation and stirring even the cats. ItâÄôs 6:15 a.m. I was crying because the mystery I had unlocked in FoerâÄôs novel was opening doors in my own mind, pieces of childhood and adulthood, pieces of life that I didnâÄôt want to lose. Oskar grabs his walkie talkie and reassures his grandmother that he is OK. She tells him not to love anyone as much as she loves him. He realizes he barely knows her. I pause to think about my parents. I realize that there are probably thousands of blank pages that their stories could fill, stories I am unaware of. Stories of before I can remember. Stories of war, of music, of college, stories of family and loss and love. Stories of their parents and their parentsâÄô parents. Stories that should be shared. A week ago I watched my nephew greet my parentsâÄô cat, I watched him pull its tail, squeal and hobble around the house. I realized IâÄôve never loved a tiny person so much. I received an e-mail about Thanksgiving. Everyone is coming, but this year will be different. One generation has been replaced with pudgy infants. One will come prepared with wipes and creams and jingly distractions. One will be suffering multiple mid-life crises. And one is just a memory. I realize, as I stand before a load of clean dishes, not wanting to put them away, how unpredictable life is. I realize that the future is unwritten and thatâÄôs OK. WeâÄôre all moving on, but the distance shouldnâÄôt separate us âÄî it simply makes the world smaller. So get out of here. YouâÄôre young. Join the Peace Corps. Teach in Iceland. China. Budapest. Move to San Francisco. Move to New York. Move home. Take your time. Life is a story. You can write it however you want to. Life isnâÄôt about money, itâÄôs about experience. Find joy in your work, in your studies. Keep in touch with friends that care. Ask questions. âÄúWhere are you going, person to my left?âÄù âÄúWhy are you digging in the trash, person to my right?âÄù âÄúWould you say âÄònoâÄô to something sweet, person in front of me?âÄù Ashley Goetz welcomes comments at [email protected]