Mayan fires rise from the hills surrounding the lake day and night. The indigenous Quiche burn things to live while tourists speed around the water on motorboats, zipping from one lakeside hippie town to another. We buy their jewelry and fabrics.
Maybe this was the last time I felt alive. I stood on the bow of a passenger ship we had chartered for just the two of us and watched the purple sun sink below the hazy hills. My girl was in the middle of the ship shooting videos for Instagram and I tried to balance while standing on the edge of the choppy water.
Later as we lay on the dock, I watched her lips, large and sweet, as they relaxed with a breath into sleep. This was in January, near the equator. Back when I felt alive and wasn’t merely mentally acknowledging the fact that my lungs expanded and contracted.
Back when every kiss really meant something.
I’m finding that a certain amount of risk is what equals vibrant life.
Well, risk and beauty.
Maybe that’s why the first book I ever wrote opens with this minute exchange:
“Certainty is overrated,” one of my college roommates said to the other.
“You’re overrated,” he replied.
Safety is overrated too.
Or maybe just safety nets.
Spend your whole life fretting about funds and you’ll reach the end of it to find that they’re not what carried you along anyway. Love did. As did beauty and a little music. You’ll also realize that because you never took a risk that exposed you on any front, you never felt the violent rush of life which is, at its core, the answer to Why?
Well, because it’s there.1
I don’t want to die as someone who was tormented by life. I’ve sped across African plains and eaten a chicken salad sandwich atop a Mayan temple. I rode an elephant through a Thai jungle and only later discovered how inhumanely they treat those animals. I’ve fallen in love one and a half times and watched my bank account dip below zero twice.
I’m always on the cusp of buying a one-way ticket to the rest of the world.
I lived in Los Angeles and got a peek backstage and the idiot behind the curtain didn’t like being found out.
In Hollywood, you don’t ask where the money comes from, you just spend it.
What they don’t want you to know is that the industry is funded by strapping people to a couch without touching them. If you can get someone to glue their eyes to their way-too-many-inches flatscreen for two hours watching your show, you can ride their attention right to the bank.
It’s called a flatscreen for a reason.
Trees aren’t two-dimensional, nor are ocean waves or quality French kisses. Don’t settle for the flatness of the life Los Angeles wants you to live.
Spend money on a plane ticket instead.
I learned that science is beautiful too. I imagine that scientists don’t become scientists because they enjoy drudgery, but because they see beauty in the mechanics of the world. Mathematicians can see the music in the numbers like biologists can hear the song the wet world has been singing for millennia.
Too many people have never quit a job.
Too many people are scared of discomfort.
Too many people haven’t seen the ocean.
Too many people have never really realized they’re going to die.
I met a girl in a coffee shop and told her I’m a writer.
I lied a bit, but I do write…or try to.
She told me the tattoos on my legs look like the haphazard pages of a journal and I’m not sure if it was a compliment or not, but it’s accurate. If our life isn’t tinted by the scribbles of a random thought here and there, colored by the imprint of each season we pass through, then how will future folks know we passed this way? What markings in the sand will tell our stories when the wind blows and the water rises?
The unexamined life is not worth living.2
You could say the unexperienced life is also not worth living.
The life in front of a flatscreen, watching other people live, is not worth living.
What purpose calls out into the face of the inevitable Heat Death of the Universe?
If it’s not to risk, to love, and to be aware that it’s all happening now, then I don’t know what it is.
You could say that one of the dangers of screens is that it removes you from the present and into a time and place that’s not here and now. Even John Wesley, the great theologian, reportedly got nervous whenever people made plans too far in the future or reminisced too deeply on the past. Because neither of those moments is where we are. We’re in the present.
“Once you realize you’re not gonna be around forever, I think that’s what makes life so magical. One day you’ll eat your last meal, smell your last flower, hug your friend for the very last time. You might not know it’s the last time. So that’s why you should do everything you love with passion, you know? Treasure the few years you’ve got because…that’s all there is.”3
We are human beings.
Be present before you’re a human was.
1George Mallory, on why he climbed Mount Everest