After the food’s been eaten, the drinks drunk, and the songs sang—after everyone goes home and you’re left alone—the reality of being one year older truly sets in.
I was born on March 6th, 1985, and then suddenly, I became 27 years old. There’s a funny thing about getting older, and it has to do with your perception. Being young and naive, you lack the capacity to really soak up experiences completely; the bigger significance gets lost, because really, it’s experience itself which provides us with the context necessary to fully appreciate the events that transpire.
Have you ever noticed that, as an older person, you seem to feel your body more? Suddenly your limbs get stiff, you wake up with a brick in your lower back, and at times, your bowels protest the food you eat with an early morning show in the bathroom. It seems like when you were younger you never really needed to stretch, waking up with a back or neck ache was unheard of, and you never really remember running out of breath. The chances are that you probably experienced all of those things when you were younger, but your brain hadn’t been marinated yet, and therefore, your awareness of your own body was so shallow that any aches and pains you felt didn’t register as hard as they do now.
But while being young surely has it’s perks, getting older holds a particularly invaluable benefit: you see the bigger picture. (and boy is it beautiful)
When I was younger my mother taught me to be vain through a rather routine series of battles with my wavy hair. She’d attack me with a brush and mousse, only to claim that I was handsome when she had finished taming my curls for a mere hour. I spent a good part of elementary school and middle school checking my reflection and hating my hair. My relationship with vanity had calmed a bit by the time I entered high-school, as I got more into the music scene and decided to just grow my locks long. When I reached college I had already begun losing my hair and then began to realized that I had spent too much time hating it, when truly, it was a meaningless burden. Oddly enough, now that I haven’t got much hair left, I’m much happier. Letting go of vanity was never easier, and truly, it helped me to appreciate parts of myself and others I may never have seen were I to stay beautiful and fixated.
So as you get older, you learn to let go of things.
Some time ago, I fell out of touch with a friend of mine with whom I often have philosophical quarrels with. Because we’ve known each other for so long, it gets to be that we can get on one another’s nerves. Over the course of our relationship, it hasn’t been uncommon for us to stop talking for weeks or even months at a time. On one such occasion, she declared that she didn’t wish to speak to me anymore, and that possibly, we shouldn’t be friends. We had been out of contact for nearly 3 months when she messaged me out of nowhere to declare that she had a change of heart. She told me that at times she had thought of me whenever she discovered a new band, movie, or some article that I might have found interesting. Additionally, she also described that she was dating a guy that she really cared about and wanted to share that with me as well.
Initially when I received this message I was livid. (HOW DARE YOU) I thought. How dare she message me back after cutting off communication with me over what I believed to be a trivial thing. My anger had flared and I sought to punish her: what does she think this is? Some kind of game where you can just be my friend whenever you want? Sorry girlie, get picky somewhere else because this buffet is closed. I had just begun to write a nasty reply when I stopped myself, and suddenly, I had a new idea. Where the anger had been, a new feeling began to grow and supplement an emerging perspective that destroyed my anger. Why should I be angry? I thought. It was then that I realized how lucky I was, and so I told her so.
This is the message I sent back, verbatim:
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get rid of you. Other times I wonder if I ever really want to be rid of you. I used to think of this kind of inner battle as a bad thing. Shouldn’t I be able to just not give a shit? Then I realized how lucky I am to have lived life and connected with people that really matter to me, no matter what happens. Some people spend their whole lives and never feel that way about friends, family, or anybody. I will always care about you. I am very happy to hear you are doing well and that you have found someone that challenges you. That’s what you need.
Let’s be friends again.
PS: I’ve got a new book that you’re going to love
I’ve reached a point in my life—whether its early or late, I’m not sure—where negative emotions aren’t really such a big deal anymore. I remember being younger when anger was scary, sadness was pretty serious, and people not liking you was practically a death sentence. Now? Those feelings come and go of course, but their nature is much different. Before my mind was much like a world of boats on the ocean, at the mercy of the weather above. Back then, emotions seemed to have the power to destroy my entire world. If a hurricane were in the forecast, my ego made of row boats would take a real beating. However, now, my mind is a lot more like the sky itself: emotional weather events come through, and I am indeed very much a part of those events, but there’s no literal damage to my world. Weather is free to come and go as it wills within the sky, but the sky is open, limitless, and unaffected. The sky is much more than what it appears to be.
Getting older also provides you with a really good look at silliness.
Jokes that reflect the true silliness of life are often the funniest. Though jokes are meant to be funny by nature, nothing busts your gut more than when a joke truly hits home because it contains some inextricable truth about real life. I once read a joke like that which I think really represents the unnecessary and complex silliness we’ve imposed upon ourselves.
Here’s the joke:
Indian Chief ‘Two Eagles’ was asked by a white government official, ‘You have observed the white man for 90 years. You’ve seen his wars and his technological advances. You’ve seen his progress, and the damage he’s done.’
The Chief nodded in agreement.
The official continued, ‘Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?’
The Chief stared at the government official for over a minute and then calmly replied. ‘When white man find land, Indians running it, no taxes, no debt, plenty buffalo, plenty beaver, clean water. Women did all the work, Medicine man free. Indian man spend all day hunting and fishing; all night having sex.’
Then the chief leaned back and smiled. ‘Only white man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that.’
Aside from the sexist comment about women, I think it’s really good humor that can often put life and culture into the proper perspective. Similarly, sometimes when I get down on life I repeat this silly snapshot of modern society in my mind, which often makes me laugh while setting my mind at ease with a fresh perspective:
People are running around all day long trying to see who can get the best and most stuff: the best house, the most money, the most power, the best car, the most friends, the most sex, the best job…
and then we all die and everything we ever bought or did in our selfish blink of a life meant ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
Now DON’T get this wrong—because this is where people get tripped up. This doesn’t mean to say that NOTHING means anything. This isn’t a existential crisis where life is meaningless because we all die, therefore we shouldn’t do anything or care. In fact, quite to the contrary, it advocates for ultimate caring and doing. It means to propose that we stop focusing on that which is arbitrary and silly, and spend what little time we have doing meaningful things.
By focusing on this depiction of what modern society truly values, I’m reminded to observe Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. I remember to think of hope, of courage, of humility, of love; I remember to marvel at humanity and its potential. I think of those moments, however few, when people cut the bullshit and really see others as they see themselves—worthwhile and precious. The think about that time when someone decides that their personal feelings and personal storyline aren’t so important, so that they might spend some time in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at a nursing home. But, we get angry and annoyed at that, we make it about us. We say “I’m not really going to make a difference, and I have no time for that anyway”. And then we go and spend 2 hours on FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube, trying to figure out how to entertain ourselves because empathy is boring and technology and merchandise hold our attention while we ignore the potential of humanity.
So on the evening of my birthday, when all the lights when out and it was just me sitting alone in the dark, I reflected on what a miracle it is to be human, to be alive, and I wished that everyone might feel the same as I do.
A special thanks to my girlfriend, friends, family, and readers. I’m so thankful for the life I’ve been given and for all the people like you who make it worth living.