There is some point in each person’s life that they declare with complete sincerity that they want to be a professional basketball player, an astronaut, a Hollywood actress. The parents nod and say, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” but shrug it off with the parental indifference that it is simply a desire that the child will discover on there own is out of reach. Somewhere along the line – a point which differs from child to child – that inspiration is lost, often with the realization that the amount of work that must be put forth and the amount of luck that must be on their side is unattainable. It is then replaced with social laziness and acceptance with mediocrity, which is promptly encouraged by parents and guidance counselors with a pat on the back.
Childhood ends, then adolescence. As one ages, dreams are replaced with reality. Possibility is replaced with probability. With it, one’s chance for being remarkable is extinguished.
The window that we get to live our lives is short. The window that we get to live our lives with the benefits of youth, even shorter. Decisions are faced every day along the way, whether that decision is what kind of sandwich to make for lunch or whether it is leaving a high-paying job for one that is much less pay, but much more gratifying. We must, of course, keep in mind how our decisions will affect those that we care for – and to a point, those that we don’t – but there is one obvious staple to happiness that is often regarded as selfish, but I regard as essential to living a life worth living: you must do what you must.
It is an internal longing that I’ve referred to before as “the itch” (and it has nothing to do with a venereal disease). I’ve suffered from it since I was a little boy, reading through encyclopedias and National Geographics for my own amusement, always feeling inexplicably different from my peers, and knowing that there was a big, fascinating world out there beyond my backyard and school playground. I felt compelled from a young age to explore it and did my best as a child to quench my curiosity, whether by reading or writing, doing or observing. The itch never really goes away though, at least not until it is scratched, which itself is only a temporary alleviation. To those it ails, the itch will come back and usually with more intensity. It can be ignored, yes, but not stifled – at least not completely. The itch compels one to do what others and society may deem irrational, but to one with the itch, that hardly matters. What is logical isn’t always right and what is right isn’t always the same for everyone.
We spend our days in the solitude of our minds and despite our social aspirations, our need to be accepted and admired and known, nobody ever really knows us and we never really know them. Think of the secrets locked in the back of your mind, the secrets that no one knows, the thoughts that are stored in your mind and your mind only. Examine those and tell me that there is somebody out there who really knows you. Most of us will be old one day and look back at our lives, from our first memories in our childhood homes to the high school prom to the choices we made after that lead to everything deemed important by society and we’ll realize that it doesn’t matter how many people we were surrounded with or how much love was exchanged, because we will realize that when it comes right down to it, we never knew a damn soul and no one ever really knew us. We spend our lives alone. We may have masked that fact by praying to a god, or with constant social interaction, with booze, or drugs, or sex, but the fact remains: we are alone with our minds. When we die, we face the white light on our own and there is nothing that we can do to change that. If we spend our lives looking to others for our happiness, we’ll spend the last moments of life in confusion and regret, wondering why we are facing the unknown all alone.
If you can’t look back at your life and respect the decisions that you made – or at least, most of them – then what was the point? There are responsibilities, of course, that alter a person’s decision making, be it marriage or children or contractual obligations, but if a person chooses to live their life for their own happiness, without harm to others, they cannot be blamed. It’s a compulsion. It can’t be helped. And happiness is not the same to everyone. To some, it is love. To others, it is family, friends, careers, money, the things that they own, their reputation. To some – those with the itch – happinness is freedom. Freedom from judgment. Freedom from money. Freedom to not know what the next day will bring. Freedom to fall in love more than once, to experience, to see, to do, to learn. Freedom from the daily monotony of the socially accepted life.