Today was the one year anniversary of the death of a certain child in my family. To protect the privacy of his nuclear family, I will render no additional details. But the milestone of course brings home how much fuckery and shittery we have all endured these past one or two years.
For me personally it’s been a particularly dark hole. With the exception of the birth of my fabulous son, the pandemic times have rendered me almost nothing but stress and heartache. But to be honest, it’s also brought opportunity, both material and spiritual. Not to dwell too long on the list, but I’ve lost several loved ones, including the young person referenced above, my own much beloved father, and some others I won’t discuss here. Being suddenly cast in the public eye has also brought both career opportunity and ceaseless anonymous abuse, which does take a toll.
I write these personal posts, though, not to cry to the world about how hard my life happens to be at the moment…. because it isn’t. Compared to many, I have it quite easy. Rather, these posts are part of my ongoing struggle to formulate a philosophy of living. And a component of that struggle is the documentation of some of my thoughts on the matter.
Parts of my emerging philosophy are based in ancient Vedic thought, some Buddhism, and a healthy dose of Stoicism. I was buoyed by the seeming synchronicity of the content of a recent “Daily Stoic” email that I received. This one asked us to consider a stanza from a certain Longfellow poem, “Psalm of Life”:
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
The Daily Stoic writer, Ryan Holiday, suggested that Longfellow is alluding to the Stoic call to keep moving forward, that our daily goal should be to simply be better than the day before.
Those keeping score will note that this poem was my late father’s absolute favourite.
A line from, of all things, Babylon 5 has always resonated with me. I paraphrase: “Love is a rare thing in life. When it calls you by name, you best not ignore it.” By the same token, sychronicities are signposts on life’s murky maze-like highway to actualization. When one presents itself, you best not ignore it.
That email was sent 10 days ago, and I’ve thought about it each day since. I’ve dreamt of my father twice, as well, after not seeing him in my mind at all since his passing. In the first dream, I had rented a car for him and had neglected to return it. Banal, I know. But I was shocked to actually see him in my inner eye.
The second dream was just last night. In it, he told me to stop talking about my son. I should not brag about my baby or his qualities, he said, as it was putting some people off. I mentioned this dream to my mother this morning, and she said that he had often told her not to brag about her children.
What does it all mean? I’m not sure. But while this banal and, to be honest, low-quality piece of advice was given to me in dreamtime, I woke with a profound realization: the sources of wisdom I’ve relied upon all my life are now gone.
First among them was my very wise and generous father, who provided a proper template for how a true ethical man should live. Then, if I must be honest, I have public figures of whom only two I have never met: Nelson Mandela, Muhammed Ali, David Bowie, and to a lesser extent, Pierre Trudeau. I’d always looked to how those men dealt with setbacks in their lives, how they responded to public challenge, to failure, mockery, physical threat, and to genuine assaults on their beliefs and values.
And they are all gone.
So I have come to rest on another observation that’s been making its way across the Internet: that the number of people older than you never increases.
This is an obvious observation that few of us take the time to digest. Every day that passes we become more senior, not just in age, but in social meaning. We gradually but unerringly become the people that others turn to for wisdom, as our own touchstones, our own gurus, fall one by one to the side.
It’s a sobering thing upon which to cogitate, especially for someone like me, who has recently become a public educator to, in some cases, millions of people.
For those young people reading this: your elders don’t have all the answers. We scratched and stumbled and clawed our way to where we are, with some hard won wisdom and perspective. We mourn the passing of the repositories of wisdom that we ourselves relied upon. We do our best and we worry that it’s not good enough. And, if we’re on our game, we strive to be a tiny bit more sagacious each day. We try. And we often fail. But we try,
I think that’s what we’re supposed to do, what my philosophy of life bids me do: try. Just try.