I’ve recently made a new friend. She’s funny, she’s clever, she’s talented, and, as of today, she’s probably the most influential person to enter my life in a very long time.
My friend is strong, not because she loves going to the gym, but because she splits wood to fuel the only heat source in an off-the-grid homestead powered by solar panels and devoid of running water. She lives with random relatives and other people in a place specifically designed to exist tomorrow regardless of whether the rest of the world suddenly vanishes. She receives random checks every so often which put Subway sandwiches in her hand and pay the meager charges the world has levied against her life.
Unless fortune finds her, my friend will continue to live this way indefinitely. She was raised in a somewhat crippling way; educated, but not formally, and kept from typical avenues of employment, she now struggles to find success in a competitive and spiteful professional world which shows little love for anyone without a resumé that sparkles. It seems in many ways she never had a chance.
And yet I, I keep getting chances. Despite the countless ways my laziness, carelessness, and selfishness have seemed destined to derail my trajectory towards anything but misery, I continue to be incredibly blessed.
I’ve been incredibly blessed all along. I’m typing this on a laptop I bought with a fraction of the thousands of dollars that were simply handed to me when I graduated high school, money I otherwise squandered on fast food and video games. Nothing remains of the second ten thousand dollars I was handed — again, for doing little more than what I was dealt — when I graduated college less than two years ago. I’ve regretted my spendthrift ways in the past, but my friend has me actually swallowing my own vomit at the thought, the agonizing thought, of what she could have done with her life had she been given a mere fraction of the opportunity I’ve had.
Humbled seems too weak a word, as I sit here typing on that expensive laptop, connected to one of two Internet connections in my house, hearing the new Satellite television system my parents are watching upstairs on a 56-inch television, lights on all over the house despite an absence of occupants in their rooms, the automatic dryer beeping to let me know that the clothes I just decided to toss in there are ready to be folded and put away, or can just be rewashed and dried for fun if I’m too lazy to deal with them now.
Mortified. There’s the word.
I don’t deserve to be happy or optimistic about my future right now. I deserve to be paying the penalties for years of squandered potential and copious prodigality. Instead I’m looking forward, past a few “hard” months of maybe having to work an easy-to-get job at some grocery store, towards a fully-funded education I barely even had to raise a finger to be offered.
I don’t want to brood. It’s not helpful to revisit the mistakes of one’s past over and over again. Regret’s natural but not productive; I can’t undo what I’ve been, what I’ve done. But looking forward, I have a chance to actually change, to truly apply myself to being something, to refusing to ride the coattails of my jackpot-winning life even if I could, perhaps especially because I could, because I’ve been given a gift so valuable I no longer feel comfortable accepting it. I’ve got to earn this. I’ve got to at least try.
Long-time readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve been struck by something and promised to reform. It’s almost a running gag — I could hashtag it and you could go back and read it as if it were just a recurring topic in the annals of the failure to try that is my life. But you know what? I don’t accept that. I won’t own it. Because after a decade of weight gain, I pushed back the needle on the scale twenty pounds. I killed the writing and reading sections of a standardized test a year and a half after leaving an academic environment. I got accepted to one of the leading schools in the nation for my field on the assumption that I can back up my words with actions.
The past couple months have seen real, tangible change in my life. I’m not going to let that die. I have a new-found reason to be a better man. If I’m to ride any wave, let it be the wave of Citius, Altius, Fortius I spoke of last summer. Because if a reality check of this sort does not galvanize me into improving, for real, well…then I’m not worth the air I breathe. Someone else out there needs it more…for those cold days and nights she has to go outside and put another log on the chopping block.
So thank you, friend, for opening up my eyes. Here’s to keeping them open.