Donning New Perspectives

I’ve read this story before, long before I wrote these words. You see it often when people have slammed into a wall and been greeted with their own mortality. In my case, the wall was cancer, a word I never expected to hear that day. Yet, I think it was something I had been preparing my whole life to cope with.

I have jokingly told my friends that I made a deal with God to live forever for as long as I could remember. It was my way of deflecting my mortality and believing that I was ready for anything. I wasn’t, of course. At some point, before the word cancer, I began donning a new set of perspectives.

If you’re like most people you have a need to control every aspect of your life. You guard yourself from being hurt, from change, from anything that doesn’t fit your ideal circumstance. You may not admit it, or even see it, but there it is guiding your every movement through life. Most of the time, you don’t even notice this particular perspective. You’re so used to it that it seems perfectly natural to hide in the safety of it.

I realized that I didn’t have control and more importantly didn’t want control. Life is beautiful in the way that it moves like a river, either carrying us along or moving around us if we get in the way. You can drown in that river or you can go with the flow. We’re told that going with the flow is a form of weakness. It is actually the most sincere form of strength to allow life to grant you opportunities to seize.

When you allow life to carry you along, you begin to see that you have a purpose that life intends for you to accomplish, to change, grow and meet new challenges with a fresh perspective each time. My wife shared with me a beautiful narrative about change that demonstrated personal transformation through the eyes of caterpillar.

Change. Caterpillars go into themselves and melt, reprograming each and every particle into a part of the butterfly that it will eventually become. That melting stage is crucial, that’s the stage when you question all that you are and use it to build the person on the other side of the perspective shift. That’s what I’ve been going through lately.

Laura, my wife, bought me a book titled “Believe” while I was in the hospital. The following quote really touched me.

“We won’t always know whose lives we touched and made better for our having cared, because actions sometimes have unforeseen ramifications. What’s important is that you do care and you act.” ~ Charlotte Lunsford

Cancer saved me from a life that I would hate, in a career that I would despise and allowed me one final opportunity to let go of the puppet strings of my life. While sitting in the hospital listening to the stories of all the nurses, doctors, and family members visiting their relatives I changed a little more each day. Is it crazy to be grateful for cancer? Maybe. I’m applying to pursue a doctorate so that I can follow through with becoming a professor, so that I can make a difference.

Make a difference. Today.

Dear 16 Year Old Me…

Dear 16 Year Old Me…

There is so much that I want to tell you right now. I can’t and won’t spoil all the surprises but I think you’d benefit from knowing a few things. First and most importantly, you are currently dwelling on certain things that will inevitably fade into obscurity:

  1. In less than two years, you will have nearly died three times. These near-death experiences will teach you the value of life and permanently curb the childish lack of responsibility you feel now. No, I won’t tell you how to avoid them. They are some of the best things that ever happened to you even though they won’t feel like it at the time.
  2. The girl you’re with now… she’s going to wreck your perception of life in a way you can’t even begin to imagine. Your friends will all tell you how horrible she was, at the posthumous memorial of your relationship. Sorry Don, she really is that fucking crazy, but you already knew that and at 16 it’s already too late to avoid it.

    We all dated someone like her. Don’t lie.
  3. Your heart will be broken more than once. You will break a few hearts. Your best friend will betray you. Don’t worry, it inevitably bites him in the ass and you’re still friends today. He will always need you even if he doesn’t think so for about 5 years.
  4. Your mom will suggest a hairstyle involving a curling iron. She is crazy, avoid this at all costs.

    bad hair day
    Don’t do it!
  5. You really don’t need that extra slice of pizza in the cafeteria line. Stop eating so much! Did anyone ever figure out what they put in school pizza? It can’t have been sanitary.

    Yes, yes you are.
  6. Your family will separate into factions and acclimate for war. You will remain neutral. Stay that way because it is not your fault.
  7. You will never have the relationship you want with your father. He is incapable because his father was incapable. He will pass away without ever having known you and frankly, it’s his loss not yours.

Secondly, without spoilers, these nuggets of knowledge might help you along the way.

  1. You are going to have this amazing idea of becoming a writer. You will fail to follow through with it until you are 30 years old. Don’t give up your passions so easily. You are full of great ideas; you may not have faith in yourself right now, but for me, for us, pursue them.
  2. Not everyone is worthy of your faith and trust. Give yourself honestly and fully only to those who deserve it.
  3. When a girl suggests you get a tattoo while you are drunk… just say no!
  4. You should enjoy the company of Donja, while you can. She will not last forever but you will remember her always. Especially on very dark and stormy nights.

    Quite possibly the best friend I’ve ever had.
  5. At some point in the future, you are going to have to acclimate yourself to alcohol for a second time. You are going to do it wrong and embarrass yourself. Be thankful for the great friends you have to save you.
  6. Don’t feel guilty about not knowing what you want to do with your life. You won’t figure this out for some time. You’re not the only one who doesn’t know. I still know people who don’t really know what they want to be. When you do figure it out, it’ll have made sense all along. Your passions will guide you.

Finally, a few things you might have sincere trouble believing but trust me. I am, after all, you.

  1. You are uniquely talented. Stop questioning it and just believe it.
  2. You are not as clever as you think you are right now, but you will be.
  3. You aren’t always right; however, you are most of the time.
  4. You will eventually meet a woman worthy of your affections, you will not be good enough for her but she’ll forgive and marry you anyway.
  5. Vegetables are not disgusting; you will learn to like many of them including zucchini.
  6. You will become the man most women wish they had, short of the harlequin obsessed ones.
  7. You will grow into a confident, successful and generally great guy.
  8. The anger will fade and you will be loved for your even-keeled sensibilities.
  9. You will get published, small steps first!
  10. You are never further from your dreams than the exertion of a little effort.

I realize that you are 16, you know everything, you’re cocky and arrogant, maybe even a douchebag by my standards today. You will humor me by reading it to the end only to respond with a sneer and a laugh at the audacity that I make such claims; but one day, not long off, you will sit before this keyboard and type an “I told you so.”

With love and understanding,

Future Don

What would you tell yourself if you could send a message back? Tell me about it!