I am sitting still, silently, with fifty years riding on my back. In a daze, maybe a hazy fog, wondering where it all went, and how I can hang on to youth, at least the parts I want to.
While at the same time welcoming the coming years, where I wonder if there will ever be answers to questions that have always haunted me, or will they just become stories that I vaguely remember and attempt to tell with an abundance of truth. All the stories have defined the man before me in the mirror, with lines of pain that have formed on his forehead, and even more lines of happiness that curl up next to his eyes. The stories reach out to me like a spike through my brain, or into my heart, leaving me with a past that I cannot explain, but a past that I would never change.
I often sit, coffee in hand, Dylan sounding from the portable speaker, thinking about what I lost, or maybe who I lost. I know time will eventually take its toll, leaving scars, many more than I have now because time has no mercy. I most likely will bury more friends and family along the way, knowing the day will come when I will join them again. I can only hope that’s a long way off because there’s a lot to do, like study the trees and the paths before me as I walk the woods.
Fifty years raises an awareness, more intense than thirty years earlier. I couldn’t have guessed then that I would have some hard travelin ahead of me, worn boots filled with dust, causing blistered feet. Lessons this “old” man can offer are many. They are stained on my shoulders and sculpted in my mind. I don’t claim to be wise, just weathered.
So maybe it’s weathered wisdom, something of myself that I have offered young people over the years, and a few older ones. By sharing my truth, perhaps I’ve steered them on a gentler path, or at least prepared them for the rocky ones. Here’s a few truths I offer from my fifty years crawling, walking, running on this Earth:
There are a few real ones out there. The people that stick around without judgement, without causing much pain, allowing you to be true to yourself and not making it hard to be true to them. If you’re lucky, there are one or two humans that fit that bill, though I will add, all dogs fit the bill.
It’s a tricky world to navigate, where people have the power to accept you or deny you from a place that they will never face or touch you. A space somewhere between reality and the screen that can scorch your eyes. They accept your meals with a “like” and dismiss your reality with silence. Keep these types of people at arm’s length. You will see them everywhere and they will bring their negativity into your space. Protect that space because those that live in chaos want company. They will most likely not change, until they are ready that is. You have power over how you will respond to them, so respond with a smile. Show them empathy because they are most likely hurting from something you don’t know about, and maybe they don’t either. One does not become bitter from birth, it takes time. Keep in mind, negative people are often martyrs, only concerned with themselves, and do not recognize that they are the way they are. They are not insightful enough for that kind of awareness, so don’t waste much time thinking about them.
It takes time to grow, usually from fear, something that leaves a mark on your skin or soul. Your questions will most likely never be answered, especially the ones that weigh on your mind, drowning you in the dark when you’re being chased by ghosts. Let those questions go because they will suffocate you from living in the moment. What is important is that you spend your life having less loss and more gain. Accept the fear and uncertainty that haunts you. Panic and anxiety will not hurt you, and if you listen close enough, the lessons you learn may offer inner peace.
You will become bored with people, books, songs, and the material offerings that life pressures you with. Don’t stop searching because life can be interesting. You will need to go find it. Create your own journey and adventures. Offer boring people a grin, those uninteresting books simply put them down and wish them well, and songs that aren’t meaningful mute them. In fact, mute the people too. It’s healthier for you. For the material things, the status symbols that people seem to think define them or make them better than their fellow man or woman, keep in mind that those things will not matter when you take that last breath. Your belongings are not what your friends, family, and students will think about when you are gone. They will think about your character, integrity, and how you made them feel.
If someone needs to question if you love them, then love them harder. If they question your loyalty, reflect and do better to earn their trust because it’s hard to get back.
Be forgiving. That includes forgiving yourself! If you lack forgiveness it will drain you from the inside out. After all, none of us are perfect and we are allowed to make mistakes, especially if we are willing to learn from them.
Don’t let politics define you. You define your politics, just do so by being ethical and having high morals. Your political party has never mattered to me but your actions certainly do.
Place yourself in nature often and take a deep breath, looking and listening to all the wonders that surround you. Nature will take care of you, so maybe you will be more inclined to take care of it. There is no feeling in the world like standing on a mountain top, feeling the crisp air on your face, and being able to see for hundreds of miles in all directions around you. If you don’t believe in something greater than yourself, I guarantee the mountains will humble you into believing how small you actually are. If you can’t climb a mountain, a very large hill in the middle of the woods will do.
Find people that want to have deep, meaningful conversations. The kind of talks that are honest and take you through a plethora of emotions in one sitting, and leave you thinking about it for days to come. Be brave with your dialogue and examine yourself and all that you come into contact with. I have been accused of thinking too much. However, those comments are usually by people who think too little. Live the kind of life that makes you want to think about it and continuously discover.
Don’t dwell on the past, just understand it.
If you decide to be a leader then do so to serve others. Never allow your personal agendas to enter a place between you and the ones you have been put in a position to care for. After all, leadership is about caring for others by always coming from a place of compassion, empathy, and then inspiring others to carry out a vision that is good for the whole team, not the individual. One does not need a title to be a servant leader. Your purpose should be about making others better and coming from a place of caring, and this does not require anything more than being present with a full heart.
Try not to take any moment for granted. It’s not easy because life will try to move past you at lightning speed. Slow down, breathe, listen, observe, and then appreciate the moment you are in. Good or bad, those moments shape your life. Learn from them. Welcome suffering because it will come, and then be mindful when you are happy. Appreciate that moment and the smile it brings to you. You cannot have happiness without suffering, so appreciate and accept both.
Talk about your mental health. We are emotional creatures and need to hear from one another. You never know who you will reach by sharing your story, and we all have a story to tell. It has always been extremely vulnerable to share a piece of myself with others, and sometimes I decide to stop, and then inevitably someone reaches out and says, “Thank you! Your story has helped me.” That’s enough to put my pride aside and let you into my thoughts. After all, we are all connected and need to help each other survive this world.
Do what you love in life, not what you are told you should do or think you should do. Never choose a career for money. That brings misery. Do something that brings happiness and aligns with your passion. Leave nothing off the table and don’t let others diminish your dreams. Somewhere down the line those types started to limit themselves, and that’s on them. If you want to sing on Broadway go for it. If you desire to be a dancer, actor, artist, writer, then make it happen. Perhaps, your passion is being a parent, then do it with all your might and hug your kids every chance you get. Are you a healer? Then heal others any way you know whether that’s becoming a nurse, doctor, or simply an empathic listener. If you are going to try, then do so with all your heart. Otherwise, why even start the journey. It’s your life to live.
The journey is the destination! The important thing is to be brave enough to think of your life as a journey in the first place.
Remember that everything is impermanent, including ourselves. This simple thought can save a lot of suffering.
Don’t carry your life like a burden. Remember it’s a gift, so unwrap it with pleasure a little at a time.
Find your breath and move with it patiently in everything you do. Most people don’t even realize that they are breathing. Your breath will bring you into the moment with everything you do: eating, reading, writing, yoga, exercise, sex, walking, and everything else you value. It’s a simple way to connect to the world that’s in front of you and be grateful for it.
If you find love, hang onto it with a grip that causes your hands to ache. Find a partner for this life. The kind that loves you hard because sometimes you are hard to love. The greatest gift in life is that after many laughing years, a few gray hairs, and some sagging skin, she still reaches for your hand. She will pull you toward something greater than yourself. Find someone who you beg the powers that be, to allow you to live a long life, another fifty years just to dream in her eyes, and watch her when she breathes in her sleep. Knowing that her every inhalation and exhalation brings you joy. Find a love that brings great awareness to your existence, where every moment is a treasure, and being a part of her world makes you believe in yourself. Find someone that offers a place where love settles and calms the storm in your mind, forgetting about unanswered questions, only to create your own story and hold your secrets close. This is for everyone that loves because love is love. All that matters is how you treat one another and how you make each other feel. Love should never be judged no matter how you receive it.
Be humble enough to realize that your words and thoughts are not anything significant. Instead, they just offer a perspective, a gathering of ideas, that others can take or leave as they venture on their own journey.
Perhaps, in fifty more years I will look back on these words and see if I followed my own advice. An old man, looking back on life with gray, unfiltered eyes welcoming his last breath, ready for his next journey.