Retropost: Look at your life, look at your choices

From a Facebook status update posted on January 18, 2015

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Sometimes life feels like an interminable stretch of plodding through an urban river of trash-strewn gunk, that when one bothers to look up, it’s difficult not to simply curse at a dull-colored sky. Today is not one of those days. I went on a guideship climb with Trail Adventours again in Gulugod Baboy in Anilao, Mabini, Batangas. I’d never been to Gulugod Baboy before, but I expected it to be a so-so climb, given that fellow mountaineers say it’s practically a walk in the park. Yet, when we reached the peak overlooking Batangas Bay, I felt such a profound sense of amazement and gratefulness for the way my life has turned out that I could’ve cried if I were alone. It was not so much the view that moved me, much less the considerably concrete-covered trail, as something one of our guests said that altered my experience of the climb.

He was the oldest in the group, and he joined the climb with his sister, her best friend, and their teenage daughters. They were beginners, some of them first-time hikers, and they cheerfully lagged behind the others in the group, trading wisecracks with each other so frequently I thought I’d walked into a sitcom. Near the beginning of the uphill dirt path, barely a quarter into the trail, as they caught up with their breaths and admired the view of the bay, he said, “I’m already 43, yet it’s the first time I’ve seen such a view!” and he seemed so, so happy about it, even as he wheezed and mopped up his sweat.

I thought about what he said, and what it implied, and as we reached the first peak, it struck me that here I was atop a mountain with a view of sea and sky, shivering in the cold, blustering wind, listening to the cawing of a murder of crows perched on the branches of a gnarly, white, leafless tree or soaring overhead, it was a Sunday morning, I was just hanging out with my siblings and playing with the dog and reading journal articles the night before, and tomorrow I would be having lunch with a good friend, and the day after I would be meeting my new students, and I realized that, almost ten years ago, when I wrote for our high school yearbook that I imagined my future self checking student essays, I had no idea that my life would be so much more than what I’d imagined.

And I realized how contingent this moment was on other moments, other choices I’d made over the years. If I hadn’t gone travelling and met certain people, would I have been a mountain guide? If I hadn’t experienced some very shitty things, would I have gone travelling as often as I did? Would I have experienced the shitty things if I didn’t read too much and overthink? If I didn’t read too much and overthink, would I have wanted to become a teacher? (And if I couldn’t oblige people to have nerdy conversations with me, could I be happy?)

And I realized that I was able to make the choices that I did because of all the opportunities I’ve been afforded, from a supportive family, to an early acquaintance (and lifelong friendship with!) books, to a good education, to meaningful employment and wonderful co-workers, bosses, and mentors… and though involved in all of these was a great deal of hard work (and not a small amount of selfishness), there’s no denying that I have been privileged, and that not everyone has access to the kind of opportunities I’ve had, not even to space and time to figure out what one wishes to do with one’s life outside the common script.

And I know this is incredibly cheesy, but I imagined that if everyone were taught to think about what meaning and meaningfulness meant to them, and allowed the means to realize/construct meaning such that hard work and perseverance were truly all that were needed for one to craft the kind of life one wished to lead and contribute to the kind of society one wished to live in, the world would be a kinder, more interesting place. Then again, I may just be saying this because I’m in a good mood today (I normally hold a misanthropic stance—for I can love only individuals, not humanity in the abstract—which only an inexplicably persistent idealism undermines).

Also, now I want to get a raven tattoo next.

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