Gracefully or Not, Here I Come

I’m approaching one of those big milestone birthdays that serves as a moment of reflection. There are some things about getting older that suck, but overall I highly recommend it and I hope to continue aging for a good long while (knock on wood). As I get older, I get more leeway to sit and tell stories (It’s in the rules. Look it up) so here we go…

In high school I wrote a story that involved a person who traveled through time to see a younger version of himself, only to realize that the younger him wouldn’t grow unless he had to learn some lessons the hard way. My teacher wanted to put the story into the school literary paper, and I refused. Nothing at that time terrified me more than the idea of making myself a target in school. I lost the story and never could capture the essence of it again, but I regret not having put it into the paper.

In that spirit, here are a few things I wish that my younger self knew, as well as something I’m glad I didn’t know.

Embrace change. My Mom taught me that “the only constant in life is change” but I didn’t internalize that lesson until later. I went to about six different high schools and had been through three divorces by the time I was 16. I hated it. I couldn’t wait until I was an (alleged) adult and would never have to move or say goodbye to my friends again. When I got older I learned that the world doesn’t work that way. No way in hell would I want to go back to being a kid again, but I wish the younger me knew how valuable it was to learn how to adapt to changes.

Nothing lasts forever. Even the Sun will be gone someday. I wish the youger me understood this. At first I thought of this as a curse, as I tried to hold on to people that I cherished. Over time I came to see it as one of life’s greatest blessings. Are things going well? Take time to appreciate it, because it won’t last forever. Are things lousy? Just keep working, because it won’t last forever. Always keep in mind that “This too, shall pass.”

The First Heartbreak is probably not your worst, it’s just the one that you’re least equipped to deal with. I was truly pathetic after my first hard breakup. I’m glad that I DIDN’T have someone to tell me “don’t worry, it gets much worse than this.” It really does get worse. What makes that first one so difficult though is that you really don’t know how to deal with it. Later in life when dealing with a much larger heartbreak I had the perspective and confidence to say “I know how to deal with this, and I will keep moving forward.”

“Someday I’ll…” be dead. When I was younger I remember a lot of hard work and no money to show for it. We were always trying to get the bills paid, struggling to keep up, and looking forward to the magical time when everything was “done” and we could enjoy ourselves. Many things were put off, saying “someday we’ll do this” or “someday we’ll go there” but you never really reach a place where things are “done” until you’re gone. One true epiphany I had in this life happened on my first trip to California. I had never been west of Houston, but I flew out to San Francisco to meet up with a friend. After lunch we headed out to the Marin Headlands to look down on the Golden Gate Bridge. The instant I crested the hill and looked down on the bridge I understood that I’d wanted to stand in that spot and see it with my own eyes for almost my entire life. Here I was at age 35 seeing it for the first time and thinking “it cost me $350 to get here, how in the hell did it take me 35 years?” I’ve traveled a bunch since, and hope I can continue to do so for a long time. Don’t keep putting things off for a day that may never come. A cousin of mine kept a journal, and the last entry in it before he died was “I never made it to Texas.” Something so simple, that would have meant so much to him, and yet he never did it. Grab a hold of opportunities when you can.
Golden Gate Bridge

20 years from now, you will reflect on how dumb you were at this moment right now. Eddie Murphy made a joke about 18-year olds being bad at sex. That offended the 18-year old me. I assumed he was talking about someone else. He wasn’t. Thing is, he talked about how much better people are at 22, and I’m sure he looks back on that now and understands that people in their 30’s and 40’s were laughing more at his naiveté than his insight on that one. Of course this one will probably still hold true for me 20 years from now. The dumb part, not the sex part. C’est la vie.

We’re all just making it up as we go along. At some point you learn that the people around you who you look up to don’t generally have some great insight or knowledge that you will one day acquire. There won’t be a day when they let you into the club and teach you how to adult. The only way you’re going to figure out what to do is by doing the work, making the choices, and accepting the consequences. Find your own path.

Enjoy life. Sure it has it’s down turns, but it pisses me off that I’m not immortal, and that I will have to give this all up at some point. Nothing lasts forever, myself included.

So that’s it. Maybe in another 50 years I’ll have figured out some more things that I will wish my 50-year old me had known. I hope you buy me a beer that day.

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