“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”
– attributed to Buddha
In the end (what end?) none of this matters, but I played along anyway.
How much you loved.
Sometimes I loved too much, other times, not enough. I have loved different people but shown it in different ways. Does that mean the love was different? I have become more careful and selective with my love, perhaps to the point that I don’t love anyone or anything deeply anymore. This is a countermeasure against loss. The extreme loves of youth are more tempered now. I don’t feel like this was a conscious decision but a naturally evolving one. It has come with stronger self-confidence and self-esteem but also at a loss of close connections with people.
I grew up with a strong independent single mother who was already tired of dealing with other people and their bullshit. I have become like her. We are loners but not lonely and not lone wolfs. We are just happy by ourselves or, in my case, with one very special person around. All my acquaintances I still call friends, I just don’t interact with them so much. This sometimes gives me a false sense of understanding as, in my mind, they are the same person as the last time I met them and nothing should be different. I still have this feeling after what could be years without speaking. Obviously, that’s unrealistic.
I could dream about meeting an old girlfriend as if it was just a current continuation of that relationship from that time. Never mind, we would be twenty years older, married with kids since. Those feelings are still in my memories but reality is much cooler.
I’m surprised sometimes that I know I won’t have those butterfly feelings again. Experience and understanding (and time) has calmed them. I am no longer crazed and tempestuous but I am still alive and capable. It’s a double-edged sword. Those feelings were special and wild, extreme highs, but dampened by such extreme lows. Perhaps some of my father’s manic depression got passed on.
Now that I have balance I guess I’m somewhat boring.
How much I have loved? I loved myself selfishly 100%. I loved others occasionally, but 100%.
How gently you lived.
My memories of youth don’t seem particularly gentle but the deeper I go, under the piss and vinegar, there is a big softy. I was a teenage asshole, sometimes even to my best friends. I was less an early 20s asshole but still could be a mean son-of-a-bitch. Having now lived in other countries around the world I believe I was very well suited to the typical British contrarian and sarcastic humour. I can fall back into it instantly I meet an ex-pat, sometimes so obviously I kick myself for it. It does, however, still make me laugh.
So whether with the simple act of aging or with growth and understanding, I am living much more gently these days. I gave up eating meat when I was 14, something that I believe inspires a gentler life. I was quite aggressive about it at the beginning but don’t even think about it anymore and thankfully it’s so acceptable these days that it’s barely a topic for discussion. There was always a tension about it before, having to constantly provide justification for what was perceived as different.
I was mostly thoughtful on the inside but could let my emotions get out of control. I’m still envious of more balanced people I grew up with, especially some who had to deal with me. I know we’re all a little fucked up in some way but I do often wish I knew then what I know now (and was able to act on it). It’s ironic that folks said that I was mature for my age. I must have been a very good deceiver.
When I was 30 and getting divorced I went to the psychiatrist and got diagnosed with mild depression and started to take a low dose of medication that stabilised a lot of my out of control emotions. When I revealed this to my mother, she then revealed to me that my father had suffered from manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder). I guess things started falling into place.
It still took me another 10 years or so of growth to get to a point where I was mostly and consistently happy and this reflected in my attitudes and behaviors. Of course, by this time a lot of small unique habits had developed which often have me reflecting how much like my mother I have become. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.
I saw an online post about how we spend our second 40 years dealing with our first 40 years. I certainly spend a lot of time reflecting on those first 40 years. I also feel that, despite being 13 past the mark, my first 40 years haven’t been completed yet.
Looking back over these words I wonder if I even know what living gently means in the context of my life. Living gently feels like I should be a monk who is careful not to step on an ant, something I was reminded of this morning when I crunched a snail under foot in my driveway – those damn snails are everywhere.
How gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.
I’ve been thinking about this one for a few days already. Letting go was always difficult when I was younger though something I seem to have improved at. However, when I think deeply about this the only ‘things’ I consider in my life (in connection to this subject) are people. After having moved across the world a couple of times already, things such as books, albums, videos, comics, furniture, clothes etc are all replaceable. Sometimes the fun in having (and losing) those things is more about the search and discovery of them again.
The ‘things’ I feel more attached too have personal meaning, such as old letters or photos but in consideration, I haven’t looked at my old letters since I left England in 1994. They are in the pile of things that I do want to go through again and perhaps document before I shuffle off.
So, that leaves people, particularly friends and girlfriends. With that I can only say that I have gotten better at it over time. Teenage/early 20s are typically messy and I was not mature and confident enough in myself to deal with letting go. Possibly this relates to a subconscious search for a mother figure to replace my mom and not having a father around to learn from.
Letting go also sometimes meant pushing away, and that is not graceful at all. I tried my best at the time.
I’m finding it hard to write more about this without going into painful detail. Perhaps considering things that I don’t wish to share about other people as much as about myself. I have few, if any, regrets but also can be nostalgic for certain times and places with certain people.
Finally, we cannot hold onto anything, nothing is actually meant for us, it is just our internal impression of it.