For most of my life, save for the past six months, I have been an objectively self-centered, mean human being.
But something happened recently. For many reasons beyond my control, I lost friends, I lost family, I lost my home, I lost hope, I lost opportunities, and I felt like I lost too much time. The transience of this life hit me at an opportune time, at the ripe age of eighteen, and I saw how much I was wasting my time, my chances, my potential, and my life.
It took many hard goodbyes and many more nights worrying by myself that I was destroying everything I had, but eventually I became a different man. These days, I exhibit a level of character, maturity, patience, and kindness that still surprises even myself. In fact, I think this drastic shift has been responsible for many of my close friends turning on me — they probably cannot believe my sudden positivity is genuine, so they think I’m just putting on a show.
But it’s true, I swear it: I’ve become a better person.
Naturally, I expected good things to happen. And for the most part, they have: I’ve seized opportunities I never dreamed of, I have some fantastic friends I can’t believe I‘m blessed to know, and I’ve seen success I only expected far in the future.
But there’s one thing that never changed throughout this transformation.
I still spent far too many nights alone. I still went out to explore new places by myself. I still couldn’t talk to anyone when I needed to the most. And that hurt me. It still does.
I never could understand why I felt lonely in a life where I’m liked by every stranger who gets to know me, a life where I enjoy connecting with so many unique people, a life where I think about the people I care about more than I think about myself, for the first time ever.
All the unexpected nights I spend in the company of a group of strangers, the weird places I get to be in, the memories I never expect to make with people I never expect to meet — they give me life. But I would give them all up just for one person I could count on, someone who would always be there, someone who liked me and stuck around instead of shaking my hand and wishing me the best after we finish our drinks.
Is it because I don’t try hard enough? Is it because I’m not nice enough? Is it because I’m not ‘normal’ enough? Is it because I hate going to watch movies?
I’m not trying to kiss my own ass or pitch myself or serve my own interests — I’m just trying to say that the depth to which I wish I could care about someone else is unfathomable, even when I think about it myself. I’m not pretending to sound like a super nice person here. This is a genuine desire of mine that, for now, mostly goes unfulfilled. So much so that I actually get upset about it.
I’m upset that I have no one to receive the good I want to give.
Now that’s a line the Mika from a few months ago would certainly scoff at.
I sometimes wonder how I turned out to be a decent human being.
My environment has certainly never nurtured it — I’ve lived in some fucked-up shit holes. I mean, abusive husbands and serial killers come out of the experiences I’ve survived, not nice guys.
But after thinking about it for a while, I think I figured it out: I’m kind because I derive fulfillment from the journey of life in present moments, rather than the success of life in end goals.
I developed this trait out of necessity: all I ever had was shit circumstances and no hope of escape. When you’re stuck in shit with no visible way out, you learn to love the shit. You eat, breathe, and love the dirt to death. And when an opportunity walks by your shit pool, you grab a handful and hurl it at that motherfucker until it slows down enough for you to seize it, nearly strangling it to death as you use it to escape the shit you’ve been stuck in.
But the problem is, after a while you get good at this. You get so good that it becomes too easy. And when that happens, you break. Because escaping the shit you’re stuck in is all you’ve ever known, yet it doesn’t fulfill you anymore because it just happens without much effort.
That’s why service to others is such a sexy prospect to me: I know that my energy and motivation and talent and hard work can make me a very, very successful man — but it’s too easy.
It’s predictable. It’s boring. It’s so simple, simply a product of focused hard work and the right values sustained over a sufficient period of time.
What’s actually exciting to me is using my potential to help other people, because any fucker can devote his life to helping himself, but it takes a special kind of person to live a life of constant sacrifice in service of something (or someone) greater.
Fuck my success. I’d give it all up without hesitation to help any of the few people I truly care about. The praise and the status and the intellect and the progress I earned isn’t precious to me, because I earned it without much heartache. So I sure as fuck can do it again, if I need to.
But the moments when you can make a difference for someone don’t come back.
That’s the gold I’ll keep: the knowledge that I sacrificed what was mine to make a difference to someone. It doesn’t matter if nobody on the planet ever knows. It doesn’t even matter if the person I’m helping never knows.
It only matters that I do.
Because it’s been one hard climb to get out of the shit I started in, for fuck’s sake. I don’t want to have been through all that hell just for a healthy investment portfolio, annual golfing holidays in the Maldives, and two kids that got into Stanford.
I already know too much about how little people actually need to survive, and thrive, to still aspire for nice cars and mansions and jet planes and raves every day of the week.
No, I’ve seen grander beauty in the short time I’ve been here. Pardon me if I’m sounding naive, but I think one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen is when a person picks themselves up against the odds to live the life they want to live. I’ve seen that up close just once: when I did it myself. By all accounts, I wasn’t meant to be the man I am now. I don’t think about how far I’ve come or how great I am for this achievement, but I’m guessing it’s a pretty decent little accomplishment by the reaction other people have to it.
But I still know that it’s a wonderful journey to come out of. And I want to be a part of such a journey for someone else. I want this more than anything else in the world.
This story was inspired by a casual friend I made through my time spent at my favorite cafe on the planet, a cozy place in Edmonton, Canada, called Drunken Ox Sober Cat. One day before writing this, I learned that this friend, let’s call her M, would be driving three hours to a neighboring city late that night after her shift at the cafe ended.
I left the cafe that night and woke up the next morning wondering if she was safe. I’m sure she’s fine, but something makes me want to be sure. Shortly before writing this paragraph, I texted her via Instagram DMs, our only form of online contact, just asking if she’s doing okay.
I have not received a reply. Because she’s probably occupied by one of her favorite pastimes: Sleeping.
M, you wonderful fucker, I wish you many good things in your life.
But only enough good things to keep you going while you gain the strength, perspective, and spirit you need in order to love your journey — after all, that’s where most of the good comes from.