Forty (40) eh. I must admit, if someone told me what I would get up to or the places I’d visit during my short life, I’d have said: no way Jose. The last forty years have been a journey that’s seen me walking with a big smile on my face, not all the time, but definitely more ups than downs. One thing’s for sure, I won’t be getting nominated for the Forty under 40 anytime soon. No nomination but at least I’m in the Fab 40 club.
Technically speaking, forty isn’t quite middle aged since I’m planning on hanging around for at least another sixty or so, despite the family statistics, which put me somewhere closer to ninety. Seriously, though, I don’t have any issues with getting older, I look forward to many more decades filled with fascinating adventures in distant countries, tramping through unexplored villages and trying to see the world through different eyes. I’ve never been one to dread adding a digit to a number that represents the passage of time. We’re all in the same boat, trying to figure out how best to pass the time with constructive and positive results.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that a smaller than average five year old was digging his way through waist-deep snow in the Tatra mountains. Not only was the majority of my journey uphill, I had to make it with two large bricks inside my backpack. It’s probably hard for you to imagine but the bricks weren’t helping me train for the ironman nor were they there for some experiment. Every morning my friend’s father would place bricks in our backpacks so that we could walk upright and face the blizzard without being thrashed about like little ragdolls.
Looking back at my walks to and from school, I now see them as an introduction to what life would have in store for me: an uphill walk with a heavy load on my back. And while I understand that life isn’t always an uphill struggle, it moves forward without stopping — always changing — even if only a step at a time. Bricks, like many of the things around us, are frequently underrated and underutilized, as are many of life’s opportunities.
My friends are probably chuckling at this point and saying something along the lines of: “Shem, now you’re old. Only grandparents talk of walking through snow.” In my own defense, I was raised in a country that suffered under communism, plus, our father, the adventurous type, sought out challenging and inhospitable places in the Tatra mountains which made life that much more interesting.
It’s hard for me to imagine myself at the age of 5. I even struggle to imagine myself at the age of 15. Sure, I have photos to tell me what I looked like, what I was wearing, my hairstyle or my pants braces. I kept diaries that can give me a glimpse into whatever preoccupied my mind at the time. Few people have seen my photos from my past but those who have tend to think that they are “adorable.” Adorable — who isn’t adorable at age 5 or 15 — It’s certainly not how I see myself at age 40.
For all the recorded evidence of my early years, I find it difficult to bond with the boy in the pictures. Even my diary entries, although familiar and detailed, present me with a mind so unlike the mind of today that I don’t understand what all the scribbling was about nor why I wasted so much ink on a girl who was intent on kissing the other guy.
All this nonsense aside, it’s time to enjoy the rest of my life. It’s time to embrace the things that make me happy rather than the things that I think other people expect of me. If there is just one thing I’ve learnt over the last forty years, it’s that nobody really cares what you do, as long as you’re happy doing it.
So whatever it is that makes you happy, gives you a big hard-on (Aussie slang) and fills your days with endless energy, keep doing it. The rest of the world — people and naysayers — can suck it.