Recently I met up with a dear old high school friend that I hadn’t seen in almost two decades.
The last time we met, I was a freshman in college, and my 2 friends and I, on a two week Spring Break had road tripped to London and Ireland, and he had given up his university dorm room to let the three of us crash.
He was one of the sweetest people I met in my time in high school. He was always easy with a smile, a joke and a laugh. He also was, as I reminded him, the very kind link between my friend Jess and I being able to pass snacks back and forth in math class our senior year, when she got banished to the other side of the room.
We’d kept in loose touch over the years, a catch up message every now and again on Facebook, with the last being somewhat shocking a few years ago as we caught up after years of not being in touch. There had been a widely publicized terror attack overseas that was all over the news at the time, and he said he was right in the middle of it, and him and his mom were lucky to have escaped with their lives, climbing over bodies that they didn’t know were dead or alive as they made a run for it with bullets whizzing by their heads.
I was fortunate enough to see this gem of a human when he was back in town recently, and we caught up on our lives over the last two decades. There was a lot to catch up on: he told me about his twists and turns as a successful lawyer in a big foreign city, and I told him about mine.
Feeling a non judgmental audience I told him everything, how I had accomplished so much in my 20’s but was so unhappy and how that had carried into my thirties. How in the last two and a half years I had walked way from a successful business, owning a house, and a relationship with someone I had fallen harder for than I ever had with anyone, all because I knew deep down that all of those things weren’t right and weren’t where I was supposed to be.
I told him how the last 2 years was essentially hitting rock bottom with everything and the kind of insight I was afforded through that experience.
I told him I learned:
- That trying to make decisions when your world is falling apart is the difference in trying to find the exit when you’re in the middle of a burning building, versus when there is no smoke and flames and no stress. I told him about the amount of things I could have or would have done differently but I couldn’t see any solutions because I was just trying to get out.
- I learned that so many people are so quick to judge you or have an opinion on you for where you are in your life and so few pick up a phone or send a text and take the 2 minutes to ask how you are. I learned how important it is to always take that 2 minutes and see how people are doing.
- That when you hit rock bottom and things absolutely go to shit and you feel so completely and utterly vulnerable that there are so so so few people that you feel you can reach out to. I told him how in my whole orbit of humans, that there were 2 people in my most desperate time of need that I felt I could reach out to, and how I will always be eternally grateful for the fact that they stuck their hand out and gave me a lift when my lifeboat was sinking and I saw no other options.
- I told him that my greatest gift, or my biggest curse (as yet to be determined) was that I have always had a strong sense of what I am supposed to do, and where I am supposed to be and the lengths I am willing to go to to get there. How despite everything I had going for me in Connecticut financially, that there was so many things that were wrong and that I knew deep down in my heart that I needed to get out of there, regardless of what the consequences would be. And how proud of myself that I had the courage to pull the plug despite everyone thinking I was crazy including myself at times. And how grateful I am that I just took the action regardless of the consequences that followed.
- I told him that complete and utter loneliness and doubt was the road that ultimately paved my way back to the track that I knew I was supposed to be on, and no amount of money, or societal pats on the back, or anything else would ever make my heart happy in the way than living authentically ever would.
- I told him that I learned that our relationships, both friendships and intimate relationships would always represent where we were on the inside. And that while I could blame others for the turmoil that my life was over the last few years, that ultimately it was just the mirror to reflect what was going on inside myself. Things changed when I started to do the work to change myself.
- Humility. I told him I learned a fucking lot about humility. I learned that all of us are a bad thing or two away from being destitute. I walk down in the worst part of Vancouver now knowing that even with the benefits of a good family, a lot of education, and no mental illness that I was within a hair of being in a really bad situation, and I look at my life with a whole lot more gratitude and far less entitlement and pretention.
- I told him how I had been on hundreds of flights and watched flight attendants millions of times say how important it was to put on your own gas mask before helping those around you. And that finally, finally I had learned that lesson. That I was still trying to shed the natural guilt and shame to say that I am my first priority and to have the self worth to make myself my first priority. That if someone or something is hurting me, that I don’t have to give two shits about them or how my actions make them feel. That even if I am not being hurt by anyone, I deserve and am worthy of putting myself first and that it took a long fucking time to learn that lesson, and it’s still one I’m practicing. I told him how free I have felt in my life since I have leaned into that notion and how I feel that its the one thing that has really allowed me to really fly lately.
- And finally I asked him if he had read the Alchemist, my favourite book, and my Bible for how to live life. The greatest and longest metaphor ever written that contains every single nugget on how I want to exist within the sphere of this world. How everyone may think you are mental for walking away from the crystal shop but that if you have the courage to do so, you’ll find where the real treasure lies (everyone needs to read the Alchemist if they want to be inspired).
Obviously two decades is a long time to catch up on, and not surprisingly, we ran out of time. We had just talked about how 3 classmates of ours have died in the last 2 years, 2 from suicide and one from a drug overdose and how it hits home how little time we have on this earth when his mom got there to pick him up.
His mom came in and sat down with us, right as he got to the part of his life that contained the terrorist attack that they both were in the middle of. As they both described what they had been through, they likened the patio we were sitting on, as the one that they almost were seated at, and where they would have surely died if the table they were to be seated in hadn’t been taken at the last moment.
They sat down at a corner table inside and 6 minutes later the entire patio was covered in bullets and bodies.
Him and his mom talked about what mattered and how you reacted when your life flashed before your eyes.
So I have a question for you. He said right before our time together was up and him and his mom needed to leave.
Let’s hear it, I said.
First of all, I think its amazing that you’ve had the courage to stick to what always felt like the right thing to do, no matter what the consequences. I see people all around me that know they aren’t happy, but don’t do anything. What made you take action especially when its so different to how you’ve been?
What do you mean? I asked him.
He continued: Well you just told me about how a huge thing that has held you back has always been thinking about other people before yourself. But I’m sure you’ve made a lot of people unhappy by following your heart and always doing what you wanted to do.
I thought about it for a second then answered. I never really thought about it like that before. But you are right. The two things definitely contradict each other. I paused. But I think I always knew deep down that the part I liked best about myself would die if I didn’t do what I knew I was supposed to, and that took precedence and mattered more than that issue I had in worrying about making other people unhappy and putting them before myself.
But I’ve thought a lot about that paradox since.
How all of us are afraid of things or stay stuck in things that we know aren’t meant for us. And what does or doesn’t end up propelling us to make changes despite those fears.
And how sometimes if we don’t have the courage on our own to do things, that the worst things that happen to us are sometimes the very thing that propels us to move towards the best possible way we could ever want to live.
And what a wonderful thing that is.