"Don't resent growing old. Many are denied the privilege."
For one reason or another I used to think that it would be in my thirties when things started to happen for me, when life would finally begin to get rolling, when a certain momentum would be established, by me or by others, and I would be carried along with it, riding the waves, finding my voice.
But I began my thirties, last year, by checking somebody out of the hospital after emergency surgery for cancer, spending my birthday saying good-bye to hospital staff and saying hello to the A-1 Hotel reception desk on Petchburi Road, just down the way from Bangkok Hospital. ("No, we're not here on holiday.") Plans were changed; the future became even more uncertain, unpredictable, and almost even unwarranted. (Or so it felt.)
Life does have a way of punching us all in our collective gut, doesn't it. (As if you didn't know that already.)
I gradually realized that my earlier conceptions of 'success', 'making it', 'fulfilling myself', etc, were rather selfish and bizarre, shallow and naive. It assumed that we can control everything, at any time, when the reality is that life all too often circumvents are own carefully determined efforts to thwart its hazardous advances. We have to adapt to life, and hope that somehow our individual will, coupled with concerted effort, can --sometimes -- force life to adapt to us (at certain points in time).
We are all on diverging paths that all too often (thank God) intersect with others, and it is at these points of rowdy intersection that we must make our way and seek our path. If we are all here for a short time, not a long time, and we are all trying to topple others on our upward journey so that we, in turn, can stand on the summit for a brief period, then what is left of ourselves will be diminished and partitioned. A mountain's peak can only hold so many people for so long before it becomes crowded. (Not to mention cold.)
I recently read a fantastic book by William Goldman from the 1960s called Boys and Girls Together, written before Goldman was a celebrated screenwriter and was, instead, merely an up-and-coming young whippersnapper of a novelist. One of the main characters is told by his father that the secret of life is not success, no, but simply making your way through the whole damn thing. Getting through the day. Surviving. Coming out whole somewhere on the other end. (Or words to that effect.) To simply live is success enough; not everybody can manage even that.
This is not to disparage ambition, or desire, or momentum. We all need a guide to where we want to go; we all need a plan. But somewhere along the line, inevitably, plans will be scrapped, acceleration halted, desire squashed. And in those moments of doubt we will discover that everything we need is around us and within us. Ambition will return, but perhaps it will be of a different, more fluid nature -- less ferocious, perhaps, and more encompassing. An ambition that seeks to suck life's marrow however we so choose, and welcome others more freely into our earnings and undertakings.
I've spent a fair bit of time in and around hospitals during the past year, and the experience brings life itself to a deeper, closer perspective. The little details of living become big, even potent. Clutching onto an IV stand as one makes one's way to the bathroom in the middle of a dark and desperate night becomes a symbol of defiance, a middle-finger to the prospect of incapacity itself. (Or so it seemed to me, from a distance.)
Sickness and pain are par for the course in hospital hallways, but so is hope. So is laughter. So is the morning sunlight coming through the window. The drapes are slashed aside. Another day has arrived. Life has been earned once again.
I am now firmly into my thirties, and whether or not the next nine years will be more prosperous than my twenties, or even my teens, has yet to be determined. If cancer can force people to watch the IV drip-drip-drip, than the human will can mount a counter-assault by getting out of bed, dragging the stand to the bathroom, defying inertia and embracing momentum, however stilted, however slow. Each movement forward is an intentional punch into the gut that is life's blatant unfairness, and each step leads towards a richer, more noble place, one usually called 'tomorrow', but life is also here, today, and if tomorrow comes, so be it.
Sometimes today is enough.