I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I once wrote a story called Less Than 35. A sad, self-serving, tale about doing my best to stay alive while attempting to make sense of a damaged yet constantly evolving brain. The title came from something I would say when I was younger. It was a phrase that I would use to shock the women I dated as a teenager. Some of the more misanthropic ones would smile and agree with the sentiment, but once I began to dating women who had their lives together – well, that shockingly immature line didn’t go over as well.
“You know I have no intention of being here after 35,” I would say with a smile and an ellipsis.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe what I was saying, but in retrospect I guess I just wanted someone to tell me I was worth it. That my life mattered to someone somewhere. Childish, sure. But I think at some point in our lives, most of us subconsciously just need validation telling us that if we vanished we would leave a dark spot behind. We all have insecurities, some of us just display our need to feel wanted in different ways.
“Why would you say something like that?” She said.
“Oh, come on.” I said with a smirk, “You know I’m going to end up doing something stupid and die.”
“What?!” She was genuinely offended. “That’s the most insane thing I have ever heard you say.”
It was the first time someone responded like they didn’t know what I meant. I had built a bit of a reputation of taking chances, making lots of mistakes, and leading a bit of an unconventional life.
“Ah, it doesn’t matter anyway. People lose their fire in their 30s anyway. I don’t want to be around when I lose that part of myself.”
And that was that. Reason enough. How could someone argue that?
“Christopher.” She said turning her body toward me and putting her hand on my hand, “If you left this planet, I would be absolutely crushed. I have no idea how I would continue on without you.”
“But you also know that you are in full control of your fire, right?”
I stiffened up, “Well yes. Of course. No one controls me.”
“So why would that be a reasonable excuse to die or kill yourself at 35?”
I was in a mild state of shock. No one had ever come at me like that.
“So if you leave because of your lack of fire, you have no one to blame but yourself.” And in the most calm and rational way, she finished by saying, “Now don’t be a coward.”
Not only did she give me what I had been so desperate to hear my entire life, but something even more important – the realization that we keep our own fire and the intensity of that fire does not come from the validation of others. And for someone who projected such a harsh facade of not caring about what people thought, I guess I just wasn’t as obvious as others while looking for validation.
We all keep our own fire. I don’t know you so I don’t know what it is that keeps you alive inside. But I do know that once you let it burn out – once you lose your passions, it’s rare that you get them back. And the older I get, the more I realize that I kept so many people in my life because they did their best to keep my fire alive. I found myself consistently disappointed and why wouldn’t I? It isn’t anyone’s responsibility but mine and it is childish to believe that someone will always be there to hold my hand and give me a reason to wake up every morning.
She was right. I was a coward. It wasn’t her job to help me find my fire and keep it lit. It was my own. Because it’s a scary thought knowing we are in control of our destiny. The idea that our life is up to us to either grind into the ground, neglect until it withers away, or steer away from our damage is a heavy responsibility to comprehend. We control our scene, our stage, our environment – but it’s so much easier to believe that the validation of others is what we need to thrive or be happy. We control the majority of happiness that comes into our lives. And if we find ourselves constantly disappointed, it’s our own fault that we looked to others to make our lives whole. Because it is an amazing feeling when you look around and realize that those people are there to stand by your fire, not to keep it burning. And it’s empowering when you realize that people can come and go and they can stand in your light and you in theirs, and they can stay or leave, and your light still shines bright and hard regardless. Because you are perfectly happy with them or without them. Because your fire shines as bright as you allow.