Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

3 Things to Remember

A wise man once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” And twenty five years later, life’s moving a whole lot faster than we ever could have imagined back then. It’s never been easier to lose sight of the forest for the trees, and with more self-indulgent tools at our fingertips than ever before (e.g. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and even blogs), it’s a wonder we can ever see past our own noses. It is also our nature to focus on the negative, and take the positive for granted. After all, no matter how much good is in our lives, we still seek to eliminate the bad - so it should come as no surprise that we’re conditioned to pay it the most attention. And so with lives full of love, we see the few who hate us, and with lives full of success we replay and relive our failures - daring to call ‘deluded’ anyone who doesn’t similarly commiserate. The gift of perspective is often an unexpected one, and is usually forced to arrive with a good bit of force to jar loose our stubborn tendencies; and I have been fortunate to recently receive it. And while I continue to battle with my propensity for paying attention to the most negative people in my life, I was reminded of those precious few people who really make all the difference in our lives, here are 3 things to remember when you’re busy forgetting them:

1. Someone Looks Up To You. It’s a heady realization - for any of us. Because for all of us, it’s true. We are all role models to someone. When we are young, we look up to nearly everyone; the adult world beyond our reach - impossibly mature, complex and stylized, our more popular and attractive peers - seemingly effortlessly navigating an otherwise suffocating social hierarchy, and those charged with helping us make the transition to adulthood - our parents, teachers and coaches, whose knowledge and judgment often seems infallible. But as we grow and continue to look up, we often neglect to look back down and see who’s looking up at us. Sometimes they are the obvious ones: younger siblings, pupils or children we care for; but often times they are unexpected and even more often go unknown. I recently had someone from my past not only tell me that they had looked up to me twenty years ago - but also, what they thought of me: how I seemed to have it all together, have strong convictions, etc. What struck me about this revelation was not how utterly wrong it was (my life was so tragic it was almost comic, almost), but how horribly I must have acted back then. The idea that anyone would look up to me at that point was so outlandishly foreign that I never considered, in that context, what I said, did or, more importantly, failed to say or do. Self-pity is an ugly and un-inspirational thing - especially when you remember that someone is watching you with those same eyes that you used to look at your big brother/sister, parents and/or teachers with. The opportunity to inspire is as precious as any, and it often takes little more to take advantage of it than recalling that as poorly as you may think you’re doing - someone thinks you’re absolutely nailing it, and prays they can do it just like you do.

2. Someone Misses You. One of the most astounding and saddening by-products of our brave new world of connectivity is just how profoundly alone it makes us feel. I can connect with the people in my life more effortless and robustly than I could even have dreamed just a few short years ago. I can send short messages, long messages, voice messages and even video messages with the touch of a button. I have over five hundred friends on Facebook, and thousands of people will read this. And yet I sometimes find myself as disconnected and lonely as I’ve ever been. We have been presented with a world of infinite connections, and it makes our own limited connectivity feel small and unworthy. We fawn over personalities with millions of “friends” or “followers” and long, enviously, to be known and desired by people we don’t even know. Even those of us who neglect to drink the Kool-Aid handed out by the Church of Fame are guilty of taking for granted of looking ahead at the expense of remembering to look back. We are the product less of the countless people who have touched our lives just for a moment than those special few who changed it immeasurably. And conversely, for the innumerable lives we will only briefly touch, we will deeply affect but a precious handful. As it turns out, in those moments of solitude, if you close your eyes and think about it, it’s not the adoring crowd that you miss - it’s those scarce few who make all the difference. Thankfully, the hole they leave by being gone is best filled by remembering that they miss you, too.

3. Someone Loves You. You’ve seen love. You know what it is; read about it, watched it, and listened to someone sing about it with more conviction than could possibly be faked. If you’re lucky you’ve felt it, but you’ve probably also felt what it’s like to lose it. But, no matter what your experience with love, the one thing that unites us is our universal feeling of unworthiness. We know nothing so intimately as our own imperfections. We know our failures, shortcomings and deficiencies more intimately than our own names - and when anyone sings our praises, a voice inside tells us that they couldn’t possibly have seen all of us, for no one who can see the warts (both inside and out) could love that. I recall believing in my teenage years, as a truth every bit as universal as the sun rising, that I could not be loved. But it wasn’t any more real for me then as it is for any of us now. No matter how wretched, horrible or utterly unlovable you believe yourself to be - someone loves you. Someone can’t imagine a world without you. Someone thinks you're perfect, just the way you are. But most importantly, someone is waiting for you to notice, to feel it, and to feel just as worthy as they think you are.

* * *

It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative, the banal and the downright depressing, as there’s just so much of it around. In this Information Age, the real tragedy is not the flood tide of data that we’re scarcely able to consume but rather that most of this unending flood of information we’re getting is bad news. If you listen carefully you’ll discover that you’re not good enough, not rich enough, not cool enough, not hot enough, not smart enough and most certainly not happy enough. And while I’ve always felt that the one skill essential to becoming educated is the ability to listen, I also know that listening to too much without thinking for yourself will turn your otherwise useful brain into so much strawberry Jell-O. One of the greatest tools we have been given is our memory. Our ability to learn and grow depends on it. But as important as it is to use it for the facts, lessons and skills we’ve acquired over the years, it is even more important to use it to keep those people who matter most close to us, no matter how far away they (or we) get.


Kristina said...

Very warm and fuzzy! I like it a lot! :)

OZ101 said...

What about, someone hates you? I always thought that I got along with everyone and tried really hard to make sure that I never pissed anyone off intentionally. A year ago I got a facebook message from a girl that I went to college with that lived on my floor freshman year. I honestly don't remember her, and I remember EVERYONE and why I remember them. She told me about how afraid of me she was, how I ruined her freshman year at college and how whenever she saw me walking toward her she would turn and walk the other way. She was apparently the Prom Queen at her High School, most popular, and she believes that I came along to teach her to be humble. I looked at her facebook profile and everything and didn't even have an inkling of who she was. I of course wrote her a lengthy message back telling her that I was sorry, even though I honestly think that this was a case of mistaken identity. So just know that somewhere, someone out there hates you, and I'm not talking ex-girlfriends.

Anonymous said...

As you know, the first thing that I thought when I read the title of this one was you need to remember to write 3 things! ; ) However, I must say I wasn't expecting to read what I did. Not only did it hit close to home, it almost brought tears to my eyes. You are such a brilliant and talented man and writer. You never fail to amaze me. From humor to opinionated and raw to heartfelt, your way with words is not only impressive, it's admirable. It's one of the many reasons...

Matthew Clement said...

Of all your columns to date, this one is my favorite. It lacks the biting edge of a rake slap, but it does expose a raw nerve that needs to be touched from time to time. As you've noted, too often we focus on the negative, and it's heartening to see your gaze turn toward something positive.

Jen and Tonic said...

The paradox of being so connected is that it has really disconnected us. We play with our phones on a date, we post messages on facebook to our friends instead of calling them, and don’t EVEN get me started on sending close friends and family member e-cards instead of a handwritten sentiment. I totally relate to the feeling of loneliness; we have a constant reminder that 500+ people know who we are, but only a couple actually want to call us or hang out.

Also, I’m still surprised that my boyfriend loves me. I’m a good person, but I’ve also got faults. At some point I tore down the walls, took off my makeup, and stood there as the person I truly am. He still loves me…possible even more because of it. Blows my mind every single day.

Lastly, I look up to you. Big time! When you wanted to write with me I was totally floored. I really respect you as a writer, but most importantly, as a human being. That means a lot because you know what a cynical bitch I can be ;) I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the same about you.

Awesome piece!

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