February 28th, 2013

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Seneca

On the morning of my 45th birthday, I’m reflective about change. I guess, if all goes well, I’m half way through this crazy journey called life. I want to believe that the best is yet to be. Its my birthday, I can believe what I want. So I’m looking for some birthday inspiration to kick start the second half of my life.

Some people find their inspiration from the great religious texts. Others find it in classic literature. As for me, I find it in sitcoms. Seinfeld, The Office, Modern Family, King of Queens and the like. I’m just a simple man who appreciates light hearted wisdom in ordinary situations that I can relate to. The episode on my mind is one from King of Queens. Doug and his wife Carrie visit Doug’s parents. While they are watching some home movies of Doug playing with his childhood dog, Rocky, Carrie wonders how Rocky could have lived over 25 years. Carrie questions Doug’s mom and uncovers a web of lies designed to protect Doug from the reality that dogs die. She discovers that the current dog is actually Rocky IV. Every time their dogs die, they buy a similar looking dog and name it Rocky. Rocky 11, 111, and IV. Rocky III was even a girl dog.

Doug’s Mom explains to Carrie that, “We don’t talk about unpleasant or uncomfortable things.”
Carrie challenges her, “What do you do with the truth, then?”
Doug’s Mom replies, “We sweep it under the rug, where it belongs!”

After a lot of discussion, they all agree, Doug included, to keep pretending that there has only ever been one Rocky. They celebrate Rocky’s 28th birthday in blissful denial.

There’s a little bit of Doug and his Mom in all of us. We desperately want to believe that things will never end. We go to great lengths to protect our delusion- telling kids elaborate stories about why dad’s moving out, pretending to go to work each day because you can’t bring yourself to tell your family that you lost your job, digging yourself into deep debt because you can’t face the reality that you can no longer afford your old lifestyle. We strut around masquerading as immortal, untouchables, keeping ourselves busy and self important enough to avoid facing the truth that every day we are another day closer to death.

The American poet Adrienne Rich said,

We see daily that our lives are terrible and little, without continuity, buyable and salable at any moment, mere blips on a screen, that this is the way we live now. Memory marketed as nostalgia; terror reduced to mere suspense, to melodrama.

I don’t mean to put a downer on the day. On the contrary, this is liberating to me. It’s the realization of impermanence that frees you to truly live. Once you stop putting energy into pretending you will live forever, expecting things to stay the same, hiding behind a delusion, you can actually live fully NOW. The alternative, the facade of permanence, is exhausting and painful. Every change becomes a new disappointment. The sooner we face the truth of change, the sooner we can stop pretending and actually live while we are alive.

Two truths about change I’m reflective about on my birthday-

1. Everything ends, and usually sooner than we want to believe.

2. Ending is a relative term, as most things turn up again in some other form, whether it’s Rocky II, III or IV, a memory, recycled hope or a new opportunity. Everything has always existed, and always will exist, in some form or other. Keanu Reeves said in The Day the Earth Stood Still, “nothing ever truly dies. The universe wastes nothing. Everything is simply, transformed.”

The first truth is the basis for acceptance. The second is the basis for optimism. But they both need to be held together. The first truth without the second can easily lead to despair. The second truth without the first can easily lead you to take things for granted, the indifference of entitlement.

So I guess this means I accept that I’m 45 and not 25. And yet I’m just another version of 25 year old Ian; Ian IV or something like it. I don’t have the energy I had at 25, but I have more peace than I had at 45. The peace I have now is the transformed energy of 25 year old me, and the next stage of my life will transform what I am now into something new. That’s the adventure I’m celebrating today and it makes me optimistic.

At this mid point in life, Winston Churchill’s words seem on point,

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Now excuse me while I enjoy the birthday crepes my son just made me.

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