A seeker’s tale
I’m feeling very philosophical about life today, so I thought I’d use a small excerpt from my soon-to-be-published second book “Chasing Life” as my post today – a seeker’s tale. The military talks about over-the-horizon capabilities, which usually means an operational initiative launched from beyond visual and radar range of the shoreline or a ship. This phrase can also refer to the ability to see something coming before it can see you. In my case, it’s all about remaining optimistic and excited about exploring what’s over the horizon while practicing situational awareness and some degree of caution (although often, not much). Age may have dimmed some of my memories, but I’ve been as honest and accurate about myself as possible in this post.
“Thar be dragons”
I was always out on the edge – dancing on the edge half the time. Even as a young boy, I deliberately took risks. From the age of eight, I spent long summer days without any adult supervision on the beach body surfing large waves that occasionally pinned me underwater and hurled me into the coral, scraping my face, shoulders and back raw. I guess that’s where I learned to hold my breath for so long. It was exhilarating and frightening. I’ve always wanted to know what was over the horizon. I was eager to sail into uncharted waters where “thar be dragons,” which is how cartographers labeled unknown and unexplored areas in the old days. I was motivated by curiosity, passion, purpose, fear, pride, goals and willpower, to name a few. The unknown and uncertainty have always been my rocket ride in life. They taught me that hard work and “good pain” pay off.
I’ve been a jack of all trades and a master of none. I’ve been a loner, a group person, a leader and a follower, a nomad, an adventurer and a rebel. But more than anything else, I’ve been a seeker. Never content to sit on an inner tube and just float down the river of life, I’ve wandered the world searching for answers and have found many, although my journey is far from over. I’ve embraced new cultures, examined different religions and explored altered states in search of enlightenment. Despite my many affairs with other “substances,” the unknown and adventure have always been my real drug. I’ve tried different lifestyles to see which one fit me best. I spent years traveling with a good friend all over the world, often living out of a backpack and camping on a beach, in the jungle or in the mountains. The ocean, jungle, mountains, solitude and silence are great teachers! They helped me slow down the crazy and make good decisions when the “shit went down.” They still do today.
Exotic places and crazy things
The adventurer and explorer in me have taken me to exotic places, exposed me to risks and nudged me into many different careers, some of which were fraught with danger and fear, like the military. If it was crazy, dangerous, exciting and sometimes just plain stupid, I had to try it. I’ve had diving accidents, parachuting accidents, aviation accidents and car accidents. I won’t even begin to list the numerous injuries my body has suffered (or the heartbreaks) on my journey! But it’s been worth every minute! I’ve always had an enormous hunger for life. I’ve heard and heeded the call to adventure. I’ve come to many forks and crossroads, and it hasn’t always been easy to know which path to choose. I have chosen correctly, but I have also chosen incorrectly.
There has always been a storm in me that I’ve sought to calm for much of my life (especially during my years as a diplomat), mostly unsuccessfully. At times, it raged like a Category 5 hurricane, which helped during my military years. At other times, it became a gentle breeze that allowed me to maintain good relations with the world. Like many people, I waged a constant war with the voices in my head until I decided to accept them and be friends with them instead. That marked a fresh start for me! Getting along with the voices and accepting them as part of me was probably the best thing I ever did! It gave me the resilience, grit, flexibility and ferocity I needed to enjoy life.
Lessons from the journey
So, what have I learned so far on this journey? I’ve learned that the only easy day was yesterday, that slow is smooth and smooth is fast, that two is one and one is none. I’ve learned to focus on my inner strength rather than my limitations. I’ve learned to strive for simplicity and that simple isn’t easy. Our brains tend to complicate things. I follow a few simple rules that work for me: Be here now. Wake up, grow up, clean up and show up. Everything takes much, much longer than it’s supposed to, so plan for it! It’s not what you do but how you do it. It’s not how good you are; it’s how you are good. Never make a major decision when it’s darkest. If you get too comfortable, you lose the edge. Most of all, I’ve learned never, ever ring the bell (quit). Let’s face it, life isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and unicorns. Have I been afraid at times? Yep, scared shitless, but it’s what you do with that fear that counts. Fear is a fantastic motivator no matter what abyss you stare into. Shit happens, and if you just want to restrict yourself to things and places where shit doesn’t happen, you’re not ever going to do anything exciting. Fear is good. It’s a survival mechanism. Use it but use it wisely and be willing to take risks.
Connecting the dots
Now that I’m nearly 74, I can look back and connect the dots of what might seem like a discombobulated life. Although I’m retired, the young boy in me continues to look for new challenges and adventures. And there’s no better way to stay young at heart than to challenge yourself in new and exciting ways. One of the best things an older person can give a young person is the wisdom gleaned from experience. A young person might not accept this gift, but if he or she does, then they are starting on their own journey to wisdom. The old have the advantage of much experience, but the disadvantage of little time, while the young have the advantage of much time, but the disadvantage of little wisdom. And that’s why the old and the young must establish a relationship and work together.
Life isn’t a dim candle but a raging torch you must grasp to move forward until it’s time for you to pass the torch to the generations behind you. And when we do, we should ask that they use this wisdom properly and fairly. As Plato said, “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” Learn to read between the lines, as you will need this skill as you get older. Stay enthusiastically curious. Question your sources. Follow a river to see where it leads. Climb a mountain to see what’s on the other side. Search for a trail to follow or, better yet, make your own trail. Take care of your body. You may need it longer than you realize now. Staying healthy is all about consistency. Every day of your life, you should find some way to move because our bodies are designed to move. If you can’t find time to take care of yourself, you won’t have to worry about it for long. Put yourself on your to-do list. Do it today!
The end of the tale
And where death is concerned, well, don’t worry about dying – worry about not letting your dreams die while you’re still alive. As for me, well, the lyrics from two of my favorite songs say it all. “Die if I must let my bones turn to dust. Lie where I land let my bones turn to sand. It doesn’t matter where you bury me, I’ll be home, and I’ll be free. It doesn’t matter where I lay. All my tears will be washed away. The tale that began on the day of my birth is not going to end with a spade in the earth.” I’ve got far greater adventures to experience on the other side!