I turned 25 this year and I had a bit of a quarter life crisis. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I was looking for advice on how to navigate this crazy adventure that is my 20’s. So for my birthday I asked my family to write a letter to themselves…
I wish I could have one more day with you. One more day where I could watch the hummingbirds with you, sort through your hot wheels collection together, go to the dollar store, hug you, and this one last time, I wouldn’t say no to a game of Skip Bo.
I wish I had told you I loved you more often. I wish you never thanked me for coming over and spending time with you, because I was never too busy for you. I wish I had never left early because of my social schedule, because the truth is, life catches you in the moment, and you don’t take advantage and appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I would give up a lifetime of social commitments for one more evening with you.
I am thankful for all the times I told you I loved you. I am so thankful for all the times I hugged you for an extra 3 seconds, despite your reservations. I am thankful for that late afternoon, the very summer before you passed, where we sat on the back deck in the fading sun, and enjoyed each others company.
Sometimes, I still think you’re going to come around the corner into the kitchen, with a bottle of wine in hand. I miss you every day.
You lived for your grand kids, and we lived for you, grandpa.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
Nathan, at one of the outlying tables, His feet tangled up in the disc jockey’s cables, Surveyed the room, as unseen as a ghost, While he mulled over what he might say for his toast. Though the couple had asked him for this benediction, It seemed at odds with parking him here by the kitchen. That he’d shown up at all was still a surprise. And not just to him; it was there in the eyes Of the guests who’d seen a mirage and drew near And then covered their shock with a “Nathan! You’re here!” And then silence. They’d nothing to say beyond that. A few of the braver souls lingered to chat. They all knew. It was neither a secret nor mystery That he and the couple had quite an odd history. Their bonds were a tangle of friendship and sex. Josh, his best pal once. And Patty, his ex. For a while he could barely go out in the city Without a being a punchline or object of pity. ‘Poor Nathan’ had virtually become his new name, And so he showed up just to show he was game Though his invite was late, a forgotten addendum. For Nathan there could be no more clear referendum That he need but endure through this evening and then He would likely not see Josh and Patty again. Josh’s sister was speaking. A princess in peach. Nathan dug in his pocket to study his speech. He’d poured over Bartlett’s for couplets to filch. He’d stayed up until three, still came up with zilch. Except for instructions he’d underscored twice. Just two words in length, and those words were ‘be nice’. Too often, he thought, our emotions betray us And reason departs once we’re up on the dais. He’d witnessed uncomfortable moments where others had lost their way quickly, Where sisters and brothers had gotten too prickly And peppered their babbling with stories of benders, Or lesbian dabbling or spot-on impressions of mothers-in-law. Which true, Nathan thought, always garnered guffaws But the price seemed too high with the laugh seldom cloaking Hostility masquerading as joking No, he’d swallow his rage and he’d bank all his fire. He knew that in his case the bar was set higher. Folks were just waiting for him to erupt. They’d be hungry for blood even though they had supped. They’d want tears or some other unsightly reaction. And Nathan would not give them that satisfaction. Though Patty a harlot and Josh was a lout, At least Nathan knew what he’d not talk about. I won’t wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken Or tonight that they choke on their salmon or chicken. I won’t mention that time when the cottage lost power In that storm on the Cape and they left for an hour And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse To pretend it took that long to switch out the fuse. Or that time Josh advised me with so much insistence That I should grant Patty a little more distance, That the worst I could do was hamper and crowd her, That if Patty felt stifled she’d just take a powder, That a plant needs its space just as much as its water, And I shouldn’t give Patty that ring that I’d bought her, Which in retrospect only elicits a “Gosh, I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh.” No I won’t spill those beans or make myself foolish To satisfy appetites venal and ghoulish. I will not be the blot on this hellish affair. And with that, Nathan pushed out and rose from his chair. And just by the tapping of knife against crystal, All eyes turned his way, like he’d fired off a pistol. “Ah hem, Joshua, Patricia, dear family and friends, A few words, if you will, before everything ends. You’ve promised to honor, to love and obey, We’ve quaffed our champagne and been cleansed by sorbet, All in endorsement of your hers-and-his-dom. So now let me add my two cents’ worth of wisdom. I was wracking my brain sitting here at this table Until I remembered this suitable fable That gets at a truth, though it may well distort us So here with the tale of the scorpion and tortoise. The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver. Just how would he manage to get ‘cross the river? ‘The water’s so deep,’ he observed with a sigh, Which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby. ‘Well, why don’t you swim?’ asked the slow-moving fellow. ‘Unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?’ ‘It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,’ Said the scorpion. ‘But that I don’t know how to swim.’ ‘Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib When I said that I figured you were an amphib- ian.’ ‘No offense taken,’ the scorpion replied. ‘But how ’bout you help me to reach the far side? You swim like a dream and you have what I lack. What say you take me across on your back?’ ‘I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,’ Said the tortoise. ‘Now that I see that it’s you. You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding. There’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding. You’re the scorpion. And, how can I say this but, well, I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.’ The scorpion replied, ‘What would killing you prove? We’d both drown. So tell me how would that behoove Me to basically die at my very own hand, When all I desire is to be on dry land?’ The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense. When he gave it some thought it made perfect sense. The niggling voice in his mind he ignored And he swam to the bank and called out, ‘Climb aboard.’ But just a few moments from when they set sail, The scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail. The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered When he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered. As he fought for his life he said, ‘Tell me why You have done this? For we now will surely both die.’ ‘I don’t know!’ cried the scorpion. ‘You never should trust A creature like me because poison I must. I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction But I just can’t help it. My form is my function. You thought I’d behave like my cousin the crab, But unlike him, it is my nature to stab.’ The tortoise expired with one final quiver, And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river. The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts Because in the end, friends, our natures will out.” Nathan paused, cleared his throat, took a sip of his drink. He needed these extra few seconds to think. The room had gone frosty; the tension was growing. Folks wondered precisely where Nathan was going. The prospects of skirting fiasco seemed dim, But what he said next surprised even him. “So what can we learn from their watery ends? Is there some lesson on how to be friends? I think what it means is that central to living A life that is good, is a life that’s forgiving. We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether We kiss or we wound, still, we must come together. Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more Since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore. So we make ourselves open while knowing full well It’s essentially saying, ‘Please, come pierce my shell.’” Silence doesn’t paint the depth of quiet in that room. There was no clinking stemware toasting to the bride or groom. You could’ve heard a petal as it landed on the floor. And in that stillness Nathan turned and walked right out the door
This is the loveliest letter I have ever recieved:
“So don’t be boring, don’t not have fun, don’t be responsible, don’t be irresponsible, embrace the gaps, touch things that look dirty, smell fresh laundry once in a while, read something in another language, dream in French, spend a day colouring with the girls, speak English once in a while, stay accessible, stay hilarious, imagine things all the time, date someone with the name Pierre, or Etienne. See the tragedy in the beginning, see the humour in the finales. Look like a local. See poetry in everything. Drink wine all the time. Drink. Wine. All. The. Time. Take care of your heart, but don’t guard it fiercely. Remember things that make you smile, and especially remember things that make you cringe, in fact, remember them everyday until you smile at them and learn to forget what it was you were trying to remember in the first place. See music live in France, the venues, I hear, are fantastic. Go dancing every other night. Lie about your name, age and pays d’origine to a random stranger. Start drinking straight espresso. Don’t forget how to spell colour and beautiful and definitely just because you’re French now. Read something hard in English. Don’t worry about the future, don’t be ignorant of the present. Live it and sleep in, and explore your small town, explore it every day. Find the crannies and the old allies and the 1920’s graffiti and memorize it. Become a local, greet the townspeople. Make your parents mail you the Optimist or I will. Spend too much money all the time, you’re young and you’ve got a lifetime of being frugal ahead of you. Did I say drink the cheap, perfect wine? Have champagne FROM Champagne.” — Daniel Swenson
Lately, I’ve been fighting the urge to throw up my hands and say “fuck all yous, im out of here!”. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. I regret taking advantage of my last few months in France, I knew that I would. I keep having flashes of myself standing, waiting for the train in Tain L’hermitage on my way to Lyon, then on my way to Paris. Paris. No one loves Paris after their first visit. No one. You know why? They don’t know how to. Paris is so much more than the Eiffel tower or the Louvre. Paris is laying in the Louxembourg gardens, scouring the wednesday markets for the ripest smelling cheese, spending the day in Montmartre trying to blend in with all the artists. Paris is watching the sun set behind the Pond Neuf. Paris is spending the evening in the Latin Quarter under the yellow anwning of a cafe enjoying your Apéritif as the evening sun warms your face. Paris is fooling Parisians into believing you’re actually french- this is not easy to do. That’s Paris.