Rear-View Mirror

I hate birthdays.  I hate the thought of getting one year closer to the feel of death’s icy fingers stroking the back of my neck.  I hate knowing that my body has already begun, in slow and subtle ways, its decline.  I hate feeling like I’ve missed yet more opportunities to learn, to grow, to love.  But, birthdays do afford a ready-made excuse to reflect on things.

  1. There is a certain romance in living a goal-directed life.  Dreaming big, and taking positive action to achieve objectives, can bring a strong sense of purpose and direction to one’s daily affairs.  But goals have a downside, too; incremental failures can lead to paralysis and self-doubt, and the fear of success can be as debilitating as the fear of failure.  In fact, the whole enterprise can be jeopardized by nothing more than the inaction that comes from being distracted from the finish line.  A personal teleology requires ongoing re-commitment to the principles and objectives of the final goal, and at times it can be hard to summon the courage to keep plugging away when no progress is apparent, or the tasks are mundane.  Discipline is both the result of, and the chief contributor to, authentic goal attainment.
  2. No matter how much we think we have achieved a degree of wisdom and understanding, there’s always yet another level left to climb.  I used to think that I’d arrive at a new insight, and that I had the answers.  Now I realize that new insights merely allow me to more carefully refine the questions. 
  3. People tend to find comfort in the devil they know, and so they refuse to jeopardize that comfort on the possibility of something better.  Risk aversion makes a powerful and pervasive brake on self-actualization, and it often works beneath our conscious thought.
  4. The temptation to treat others instrumentally, instead of as a person intrinsically worthy of respect, can be hard to resist.  We look to others not for who they are, but for what they can do or be for us.  This lesson has been driven home by my recent excursions into relationship-seeking.  No one has really looked for me; rather, they looked for someone who could do something for them, or fill an abstract role in their lives.  I am not a knight in shining armor.  I am not a perfect boyfriend with a perfect body.  I cannot heal your damaged psyche.  Perhaps it’s cynicism talking, but it seems like authentic engagement with a person who is respected as a person is lacking from the contemporary social space.  We are so focused on what we want, that we refuse to remain open to how our lives might change for the better if we didn’t treat most everyone else like some sort of tool or organic blow-up doll, or as a mere template upon which we impress our hopes and desires.
  5. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of wounded souls.  Many of the people I’ve encountered over the last six months have some some unresolved emotional trauma that — from my perspective — appears to be circumscribing their happiness in a clear and unambiguous way.  Of course, they usually don’t see it from my perspective.  Naming names isn’t relevant; what’s important is that the number of genuinely well-adjusted people I’ve come across is small, and that people are their own worst judges of their own problems.  And any gentle reader who thinks I’ve got some sort of unresolved problem is most welcome to e-mail me with their thoughts; the exercise will certainly be well-received.
  6. Genuine friendship is worth its weight in gold.  I think, on balance, that over my 31st year, my relationship with my core friends has either stayed the same (Jon, Rick, Duane, Sheila, [redacted]) or improved (Emilie, Tony).  I’ve made authentic new friends whom I’m confident will be around for a while (Tracy, Teri, Jen, Becca, Andrew).  There are a few others, very newly met, for whom … time will tell.  But the upshot is this:  I’ve tried to take my friends less for granted than I used to, and I’m a better person because they’re in my life, providing support when needed and a kick in the buttocks when appropriate.  Plus, I like them for who they are, which is a bonus.
  7. I’ve been ambivalent about whether I really need a “significant other” in my life.  There’s a part of me that feels incomplete — that having a person to call my own will fill a void of emotional energy that too often stops me from the hard work of goal attainment.  Having someone to love, and to love me, is powerfully motivating and fulfilling.  That said, finding the right person is hard, and the search sucks away what little juice is left in the batteries.  Perhaps I should be content to be alone?  Every other day, my opinion on this changes.
  8. Too many allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  They have a decent thing going, but they find a reason to be unhappy, or they find a good person but find a reason to reject him or her.  Too much complacency is a bad thing, but too little acceptance of minor flaws can be equally vexing.
  9. Genuine serenity requires an ability very difficult to hone — a willingness to love yourself unconditionally, despite your blemishes.  Love requires acceptance, and self-acceptance is in rare supply these days.  I know that I’ve struggled against self-image issues for a long time, and with feelings of social inadequacy.  These have melted away recently, and I think that for the first time ever, I’ve been comfortable enough in my own skin to love myself without qualification.  It’s amazing how much tranquility one can cultivate by not stressing out about your own flaws.  Optimism, too, increases significantly, and an upbeat disposition can do much to bridge the cap for other things (like lack of ambition, or loneliness) that otherwise might prove debilitating.
  10. Am I living in the wrong place, at the wrong time?  The cultural feel of Grand Rapids, for people in my age cohort, is off-key.  The social vibe just isn’t quite right — people are more reserved, passive aggressive and inconsistent.
  11. Reputation is hard to maintain but easy to piss away.  I’ve been remarkably fortunate to have been as “consequence-free” for failing to honor my obligations to others, but this good luck comes with a price.  The summer spent doing everything but what I should have, ended up having practical consequences insofar as I “lost” a client and got booted out of a community project.  Shame can sometimes supply the motivation that duty alone cannot, and right now, I’m feeling some pressure to shore up my sagging reputation with some of my contacts.
  12. There can be such a thing as too much introspection.  “Analysis paralysis” affects individuals as much as quality-improvement teams.
  13. Secrets are almost as destructive to relationships as betrayal.  Especially as I think about how my family has developed since my grandfather died three years ago, I realize — in a more direct way — that secrets (even those kept under the very best of intentions) have a long-term corrosive effect.  Being an open book has a price, but I think it’s cheaper in the end than in being too closed.

All for now.

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  1. Be careful of number 11- it’s easy to fall into that “over analysis.”

    And for me, birthdays were a ready-made excuse to skip school and go play in the snow.

  2. I hate birthdays. I hate the thought of getting one year closer to the feel of death’s icy fingers stroking the back of my neck.

    Whoa. When did you get into the goth scene.

    Oh, quit being such a crybaby. Celebrating another birthday is so much better than not making it to another one. Maybe if you cancelled your little introspective pity parties for a while and actually enjoyed the simple joy of living, you wouldn’t fear birthdays.

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