Life is a precious commodity. It is taken for granted so easily, so passively. I know this because I have indulged in plenty of my own time-wasting, usually for no other purpose than momentary satisfaction. I used to think of age as an annoying reminder of new aches and pains working their way into one’s life, and that is not entirely untrue. But it is only part of the big picture, which is bound by the element of time that drifts us ever so closer towards the end of our existence as we know it. That becomes a little scarier to confront each year, but it also puts the present into a much broader perspective. Today is about today, and doing everything you can to live, enjoy, savor and cherish the pleasures of Earth and its gifts. I know this better at 32 than I did at 24, and it’s a remarkable feeling to not only realize it, but experience it.
In the past, my personal dealings with mortality – in family, friends, and acquaintances that pass in the night of reality and then are consumed before morning – come at a heavy expense. Incomprehensible to me is the thought of a spiritual essence, once shackled by flesh and bone and molded by experiences of untold force, can in one moment be bound to an earthly plane where everything is known to us, and then in the next be gone to a strange unconsciousness that eludes reason. The unknown brings peace, they say; to this mind, it brings fear, and dread, and an unsettling sense of dark permanence. I am not alone in this feeling. Nor do I believe for a moment, furthermore, that my sentiment is not echoed by peers in this age. There is a suspicion that this idea will evolve over time, and an inner peace with the concept may result. But as of now it offers no comfort, and I feel caught in a fated tango between the finite and infinite.
Many important people have died in the recent years; some I never was prepared for. Idols of my youth – like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston – are gone like the light of a candle underneath a snuffer. This last summer, the death of an old schoolteacher who had an undeniable influence on me in my youth felt like being hit with a ton of bricks. My greatest professional hero’s death at the beginning of April was paralyzing, and somewhat heartbreaking. These are not isolated moments of grief; they stick with me in the shadows. Some days I feel like that old professor in “Wild Strawberries” walking tiringly along on the beaten path, half expecting memories and regrets to manifest like images that play out in a mirror. These are not healthy things to be thinking at any age, but they exist because emotions play through us like weather fronts; some days are greyer than others.
Each year, at least, the outlook is brighter. I get less caught up in the future and more focused on the present. Today there are gifts aplenty that cannot be ignored. I am thankful for a partner who inspires great passion in me every day, and does so without any hint of pessimism. I am grateful to a menagerie of friends I have collected personally and professionally, near and far, intimately and casually. My family is supportive in a manner that many others are not, and that is an irreplaceable sentiment. Some days, like today, require me to give pause and acknowledge just how blessed I am to have that kind of reach. Who would have thought that a fairly introverted loner would one day be able to count the number of people he is fond of on more than a dozen hands?
In many ways, the movies helped teach me these key lessons. As the years pass, I learn to let go of another layer of negative emotions, and embrace the idea of just being happy. The future contains things that are inevitable, but why try changing that which cannot be controlled? The focus is on the here, and now, and always should be. A birthday should not always be the point to which we are reminded of how much positive influence we can choose to have in this world, but it’s a great way to start. Age 32 feels like the right time to make more of a difference: in myself, in others, in the community, and in society.
The movies remain the operative benchmark for these realizations. A bad movie can be dismissed, but a really amazing one, I feel, can make you into a better person. In them are the seeds of a perspective that has the potential to enrich our consciousness, and inspire great thoughts and ideas. How fortunate that I have been able to experience so many in such a short amount of time, especially when the mainstream film industry is, still, caught by the balls in that short-sighted notion of instant gratification.
So on this day of optimism and evaluation, I thank my friends, my family, and my colleagues for all they have offered me over these last three decades. There will be many more to come, many other lessons to learn and countless new experiences to be weathered by. And I embrace the opportunity to live in these new moments with all the ones I love and admire, because you all make this interesting world worth living in day in and day out. And if that includes the movies as a meeting point, then all the better.