Forty is perhaps the most peaceful of the big number birthdays that I have had the good fortune of getting around to. As someone who has always disliked birthdays, due the reminder of the numerous things that have gone wrong and the numerous things that I have missed out on, the difference is palpable and quite a welcome one.
The funny thing is that the peace in it is not due to a lack of chaos, but in spite of it and that kind of underlines the most significant change in recent years; that life is about what I am able to do in spite of the numerous restrictions, limitations and circumstances than what I am not able to do because of those same restrictions, limitations and circumstances.
And circumstances had been trying for the past few years. Both the personal and professional aspects of life had taken a terrible pounding and I was forced to take things one-day-at-a-time to just get by. Initially, this was a terrible thing, according to me, as there was no long term horizon for anything and the idea was to get by the current day as the only objective.
As time went on, I realized that something odd was happening. I was starting to enjoy the idea of taking the day that I have in my hand as the only thing I wanted to worry about than the days/weeks/months/years to come. On numerous occasions these single day units would not go to plan. But instead of dwelling endlessly on it, I’d just leave it at that and tell myself that I’ll try and make up for it the next day.
This, in turn, helped me break the worst problem that I had: the tying together of a bunch of isolated issues, using my own narrative as the thread that holds them all together into something larger than the sum of the parts. Sure, things often do go wrong. When billions of people live on a big piece of rock, that is bound to happen, but not all of that need not be a complex conspiracy to make my life miserable.
Strangely, much of this change in perspective has happened due to couple of rather miserable experiences. The first being the cancer diagnosis of a very close relative and the second was about 2-years of work in the healthcare industry. The idea that there is something good to takeaway from every experience can be true if you don’t let the misery of bad experiences overwhelm everything else.
Once I was able to move out of my own self-centered narrative in my head and I could finally see the humongous amount of good fortune involved in getting my life to where it is today. Frankly, it blew me away. So much of what we think of as our innate abilities are things that we have done absolutely nothing to possess. I’m just lucky enough to have been born with so many of the things that identify me uniquely.
The parents I was born to, the colour of my skin, my IQ; none of these are things that I did anything to have. So much of what we identify closely with is just such a lottery. One among millions of factors that fall in place to make all this happen, being delayed by half a second or being a smidgen less (or more) in its strength would have resulted in me being a different place, with vastly different abilities, nationality; or I could not have been born at all in the first place.
And we get so crazily attached to these things: race, colour, skill; like we have somehow earned them all. This is more so the case when it comes to our bodies. The time that I spent in the healthcare industry has been an eye-opener in showing me how little we still understand the miracle called a human being.
Examined up close, medicine, contrary to what we are brought up to believe, reveals itself as such an inexact science. That it all functions together well enough to keep most of us going within expected parameters for decades on end is more a miracle of evolution than due to any ten specific steps we have taken at any point in life.
That someone is alive today is as much a miracle as their sudden, unexpected death on any given day. We really control very little of any of that. All that we really have is today, this hour, this minute. The idea is to try and string together as many minutes, hours and days doing what we love doing. That way, when it is time to go, it does not feel as devastating as it is for people who die with a long list of things they regret not having done.
Lastly, if you really want to feel free in life, love the people you love freely and as much as you can without keeping tabs on whether they love you back with as much intensity and fervour as you love them. And this love, it need not be just romantic love. The sense of liberation that comes when you love that freely is such a revelation.
Overall, I feel at 40 that I have lived a wonderful life. I can’t think of many worldly accomplishments in it, but I have experienced a wide variety to things, known a large number of absolutely wonderful people who have enriched my life in numerous ways. And unlike earlier times, I do not feel cut up about the tough times.
I’m not sure how many hours, days, weeks, years I have left on this planet, but I do feel that at 40 I have found the way to live that sits very well with me. And I could not feel more grateful than this.
Life is good.