“You are going to die.”
I was living in Boulder, Colorado in my late twenties.
One early Saturday evening, I heard a promotion on the radio that a downtown Denver club was giving away tickets + flight to see the Reverend Horton Heat in California. With no hesitation, I hopped in my beater car and made a beeline to downtown Denver.
Once I was there and in the club, I immediately saw a huge plastic jar full of drinking straws. The idea was to submit your guess as to how many there were. The person closest to it would win the trip/tickets to see the Reverend.
The person who guessed the exact amount of straws, didn’t claim his prize.
The person who guessed the second closest number of straws was me.
I was so excited that I nearly caused an accident on my way home.
A week later, I get a call from the promoter saying the concert had been cancelled. They asked if I wanted to go on a different trip. I asked “What kind of trips do you have?” Ten minutes later, I had a new destination in hand.
Basically, I had turned in my concert/flight to California for a new trip to Jamaica.
I was allowed one guest to come with me. Since I was single and not even trying to date (I really wasn’t), I asked my brother to come. He enthusiastically agreed, and we were off.
Jamaica was strange. It was definitely a tourist trap, with our place being right next to a golf course. We had beggars coming up to both me and my brother frequently, was given some of the best fruit I had ever tasted, and was told never to venture into the back streets for souvenirs.
We were also with two stewardesses who my brother met on the drive in from the airport. They were on leave and were planning on enjoying themselves for the week like we were.
Then I met someone I’ll call ‘Ted the traveler’.
We met Ted on our first day in Jamaica as he was getting out of the Sheraton Hotel we were checking into. He was gracious enough to answer our questions on where to go, which taxis to take and other related topics.
At one point, he asked “Are those two your girlfriends or something?”
Me: “No, no… we just met them earlier.”
Ted: “Ahh okay. Shame really…”
I didn’t say anything.
Then Ted said something I have not forgotten since I met him over 20 years ago. It seemed pretty crazy sounding and rather inappropriate at the time.
Ted: “Look at me carefully. (I looked and he paused for a few seconds). Understand that you are going to die. I imagine you’re doing a lot of stupid shit in your life and you have no fucking idea why. But make no mistake, you are not coming back in this world. There is no fucking re-do. You have one shot. Don’t fuck yourself and believe otherwise. I gotta go…”
With that, he turned to someone who looked native to the island, wrapped his arm around him, and disappeared forever.
My brother walked up and asked if I was ready to go out to dinner with the ladies. I didn’t answer. I just kept staring at the long road that Ted seemed to disappear from.
Then, I turned and headed towards the group waiting near the an idle Taxi.
I thought about Ted every year, on my birthday.
Not because he was all gloom and doom, mind you. I didn’t adopt the mindset that my life was one step closer to ending because I was a year older. Nothing like that.
What his memory did was encourage me to take inventory of my year… every year… and try to remember what happened. What events were memorable, meaningful, crazy or disrupting? Am I satisfied with where I am in life? A whole lot of introspection to be sure.
However, that all stopped when I turned 49 this year.
I wasn’t supposed to be validating or remembering who I was or what I did the past year. Hell, I wasn’t even supposed to be daydreaming about where I’d be in 5–10 years.
Instead, I was supposed to be taking advantage of what I have, right now, without deferment to either the past of the future.
Most of us put the past on a pedestal and reframe it to make ourselves feel better or justify why we do things. Just as many people look to the future to project a better self through various means. Those are natural, human tendencies that help us give context, and I do them all the time.
But it’s a mistake.
You have to live in the moment.
You have to take full advantage of what you have in the present by understanding that its not coming back.
For me, my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s are done.
That’s about 262,800 hours that were probably spent unwisely by focusing on either the past or the future for the most part. A small percentage of that time was really meaningful and memorable, but a large portion of it was me just fucking around.
If you’re of the opinion that you’re never coming back to this world after you perish, and the odds of you being a human being are 400 trillion to one, focusing on the present is arguably the best thing you could hope to do for yourself.
The question is, will you?
Will you grasp this unbelievable thing you’ve been given and do as much as you can with it, or not? Do you want to live the one life you have on your terms, living up to your own expectations? Or, are you going to value what others have to say and defer your life’s work?
There is no do-over. You have one shot.
Don’t fuck yourself and believe otherwise.
I gotta go…