Unbelievably, on August 27th, 2000, I was due to turn twenty-six, which meant I had to start rounding my age up to thirty, which was half way to sixty, which was only five years from retirement, which was practically the same as dying. Turning twenty-six, I concluded, is akin to death, thanks to one unavoidable step on a very slippery slope.
The big day came and the big day went, and, miraculously, my life didn’t disappear into a puff of poor reasoning. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed, and, lo and behold, life chugged along, and I chugged along with it. Nothing of any real significance happened on August 27th, 2000, or the day after, or the day after that. Eventually, I realized that fretting about my 26th birthday had been a bit silly. Accordingly, I have never since fretted about any other birthday.
In the fourteen years that have passed since that day, I can’t say that I have accomplished anything upon which I would rest my laurels, but I have done a lot. Twenty-six seems both very close and very far. Of course, so does thirty-three and nineteen. Of all the subtle but significant changes, I think my sense of time, experienced through memory, has changed most of all.
If I could tell myself one thing at twenty-six, it would be something along the lines of “Calm the fuck down. Old age, retirement, and death, yes, even though it feels right around the corner, they are decades, decaaaaaaaades away. In a decade and half, you won’t be worrying about retirement or death, so why worry about it now? What’s your rush? Chill. Focus on living, not what comes at the end of it.”
Of course, even if I could bend space-time and communicate this message to my twenty-six year old self, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. I know, because about a year and half after my twenty-sixth birthday, not long before I left for New Zealand, I saw Waking Life, and one of the scenes in the movie makes the very point I want to communicate to my younger self.
I can still remember how my late-twenties brain raged at the notion that this crippling sense of urgency would somehow play itself out simply as a consequence of getting older. Sure enough, a few years later it did. Perhaps, this flick of the urgency switch is one more stage of brain development we don’t yet fully understand. Maybe, it was something else. Either way, it happened.
Ultimately, I can’t entirely disown that sense of urgency. It played a role in getting me from there to here, and here is pretty good. With the benefit of hindsight — that is, if I could remain the person I am and make different choices — there are many things I would do differently, but, I like who I am and the path that got me here, so I really wouldn’t change a thing, if it meant changing who I have become. All things considered, I played a pretty good hand with the cards I was dealt.
More importantly, the I that I have become has so much more life left to live. In another fourteen years, which seem like millennia away right now, I will be fifty-four, which fourteen years ago seemed akin to death, and now looks like it will be a pretty fun and productive time of life. When I think of what I’ve done with the last fourteen years and the very many important if subtle changes that have happened, I really have no idea who I will be, what I will be doing, or what the future version of me will want to say to this younger version of myself.
I have hunch, though. When I reflect on the things that I let myself get worked up about these days, I suspect my future self will want to tell me something along the lines of “Calm the fuck down. Everything is going to be fine. Focus on living, not what comes at the end of it.”