"Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing... A new Hedonism--that is what our century wants."
-- Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
I noted a few columns ago that my primary pursuit in this place is to convey my sense of passion for photography and travel. It's a fundamental part of my life. Since that time I've added Montana and Wisconsin to my list of now 44 states I have visited (outside of the airport). By the end of 2014 it's highly likely I'll be at 47.
But what I have found is that it isn't the marks on the map that count. Nor is it the distance traveled.
It is the experiences those marks represent. The memories and, yes, the photographs and descriptions. But photographs cannot convey the taste of Wisconsin cheese curds, tasted fresh-at-the-source for the very first time in the small town of Ellsworth. They cannot convey the sensation of driving rapidly through the mountains and valleys of the Glacier National Park, through trees and glacial rivers and sights that command your attention.
Of being awakened by violent yet beautiful thunder and lightning storms outside my window in Minneapolis at 2:30am.
On my birthday this year I printed the below essay on my thoughts on my life, having reached the age of 53, which at one time I would have considered "old" and on the downslope of life.
Not so much, however, when one is looking back over the intervening years -- and labeling that younger version of myself as "perhaps too young to fully understand".
I get it now, at least better than I once did.
While the below doesn't deal a whole lot with travel or photography, both are core to what I have become.
"As of 2:30-ish this afternoon, I will have completed my 53rd rotation around the sun.
This is astounding to me. Yesterday my wife Cris and I were looking at our dining room table trying to remember when we bought it. It was our first piece of truly nice decor -- Ethan Allen -- and represented a change for us. We were, at the time, freshly into our first purchased home, a large condominium in Long Beach. It was a momentous occasion, signaling that we had finally made that transition from financially struggling young couple to a more stable and comfortable one.
2014 will also see our celebration of our 29th Anniversary. 29 years. I can recall vividly the early years of our marriage wondering who we would be, what we would be like at this stage in our lives. I think we've done rather well. We have wonderful friends who add texture and feeling and perspective to our lives. We have loving families on both sides of the aisle. And we have each other.
The years have given us challenges, the majority of which we have overcome, and those things we have not yet done away with will be dealt with in time.
This time last year I was miserable in my job. Highly stressed and frustrated. And angry. Very angry. In the last twelve months I've made a transition to a rewarding position that takes me to many places and allows me to deal with interesting people and organizations. At 52 I hated my job, at 53 I love it. The adage noting the difference a year makes is exactly right. At 24 a year was a long time. No more. It's barely enough time to appreciate what we've got or those things we need to change. We cannot take those good things for granted -- things may change tomorrow for the worse -- in the same way we cannot allow ourselves to think that any situation is hopeless and insurmountable. Time changes everything.
Two years ago at this time I was in Las Vegas to celebrate my 51st birthday. Little did I realize just what a wrong turn that trip was going to take. Right after a sumptuous dinner with my wife, I developed a bloody nose that simply would not stop. Two hours later I was packed into an ambulance and rushed to a nearby hospital where they struggled for another three hours. It was a night of brutality. The trip ruined, with my tail tucked between my legs we came back home and the next day I went to see my doctor. Diagnosis: I had been systematically thinning my blood by heavily over-using "healthy" supplements over the course of many years -- literally starving my body of oxygen. It explained so many things which were physically wrong with me at the time. I was always short of breath…even the tiniest task wore me out. I would sweat doing the smallest of things, and hated the idea of walking even a block or so. At work I parked on the fifth floor of the parking structure, driving all the way up so as to reduce my walk to the smallest distance every day.
Upon the diagnosis I stopped the supplements. I stopped the things I was doing which caused my body so much grief. It changed my life. You do not understand, fully, what the word vitality means until you have experienced its opposite and then come back across the line. I was effectively reborn, stunned by the energy and what I could describe only as "solidity" to my physiology. I could breathe again.
In many ways the last two years have been a sort of rebirth, from a world I am not sure I would have described as requiring it, but in hindsight it was not only necessary but essential. Often we are too close to something to see what damage it is doing -- even when the damage is done with the best of intentions. This is true of not just physical damage, but emotional damage and mental damage. And in each case we have to take that step back and realize when something is not healthy for our lives, our outlook or our happiness. Ultimately only happiness is what we can have in this world. The pursuit of it is even enshrined in the American Constitution.
In order to be happy, we have to be content with our lot in life -- always seeking to improve it, but not making that improvement our sole definition of getting us to that "Happy Place". If we're not at least content with where we are, we will never achieve that contentment by getting to some other goal in the future.It's always about forward momentum, not being weighed down by things in the past or things we cannot change (fittingly, many of those unchangeables are things in the past).
I am happy where I am. At 53 I can look back and note the potholes in the road and the ruggedness of the terrain, but I am confident that my 24 year old self -- fresh from the wedding ceremony -- would be happy and relieved to find where we are at now, at more than twice his age. I have "grown older" (not old!) with a lovely woman at my side. She makes the sun rise every morning, and is with me when it sets in the evening. We have a life together that is comforting, warm and full of love.
In 53 years, I've discovered that the true secret in life is never giving up on exploring the world, never give up in loving with all of your heart, and never think that you have come to a standstill and cannot move forward.
We are blessed with a great many possibilities."