It is time that I write concretely about my recent past, my present state, and my intentioned future. Partially as a cathartic establishment of my place in time, and partially in order to hold myself accountable for the words I am about to write. You see, for the last five-months-or-so, I have actively shirked responsibility, reduced expectations, avoided any-and-all future obligations— a ghost of my former state. This is to be expected, as great tragedy demands great change.
This year has seen unprecedented highs and most destitute lows. To be true, 2012 has erred somber, with the memory of my father’s death tainting even my most exalted victories. One might think that the fresh and whipping air at the summit of Mt. Jefferson would provide the grounds for untarnished joy, or those many nights laboring single-mindedly at the organ in Memorial Chapel might allow me to set the sadness aside. But the mind is cruel, and my thoughts yet run their course unthwarted. And as I have often been present in situations where the prevailing emotion is not morbid, I have too-often experienced what I now know as emotive dissonance, where my environment and my emotional state are painfully incongruent. This has been rather difficult, and has precluded me from being quite present during most college parties, concerts/shows, classes, and most commonly, routine human interaction. So if I have been distant, or distracted, or entirely rude and blunt — I am moderately apologetic.
And so you’re getting a sense of my modus operandi over the last months: complete only the necessary minimum, do only what is fundamentally essential, interact with only those close friends who are also proximate and well-informed, and avoid any unnecessary LIVING, or life experience.
The day after my father killed himself, I found out that I had been accepted into the Startingbloc Boston ’12 Institute for Social Change. At the time, I was like, “great, now I’ve got to go talk to hundreds of people and act all professional and be motivated and happy.” I wasn’t even sure that Startingbloc was right for me- I was only 19 and hadn’t started any companies or accomplished any great feats of “social innovation.” But it was months away, and even under my sorry storm cloud, I was still excited about my future in some distant sense. So I paid tuition to obligate myself to actually go (SMASH FEAR) and continued my grieving-ghost-living.
I made it through the school year, finished my final exams, made it home, and had about a week to collect myself before Startingbloc. I went hiking for three days in the White Mountains in NH with some of my best and oldest friends. I watched some stars, ate some ramen, listened to the quiet of the mountains, and reconnected with some roots, with who I was pre-tragedy. I felt more control over my own destiny than I had in months.
So I approached Startingbloc with wide-open-eyes, – partially in bewilderment of the passionate and high-achieving cohort I had joined, but more importantly, with a receptive outlook than I had not felt even once during my ghost-living. I realized that my passion for life- my vital energy that I had long felt distinguished me from most others- was merely in hibernation, and could be reawakened mindfully. After every day of Startingbloc, which were each intense and socially demanding 9am-9pm experiences, I felt myself slowly reaquainting with my prior self. In others, I (quite obviously) saw the passion that I used to relish, the kind of energy that keeps you up until 5am learning- every night. I saw the excitement that I used to feel when I would finish a blog post or get that precious inspiration-from-the-gods’ inexplicable motivation to suddenly write down an idea. I remembered. I remembered! I remembered.
One of the most important moments for me (I will share more about SB in later posts) was a conversation I had with my friend, Ngozi Nezianya. I had just met him, really- we had known each other no more than half-an-hour. And we stumbled on to discussing a topic about which I have thought long and hard. He asked me (something semblant of) “… in life, would you pursue Joy, or Happiness, and how?”
My father had many sources of happiness in his life. He loved his (immediate) family, and he derived great happiness from his “toys” including guns (he was a hunter), knives (he was a hunter) and too-many-pairs-of-boots (he had a masculinity complex). But he was not a joyous individual. As I have come to understand the important difference, joy is from within. Joy emanates from within oneself- perhaps it is some glorious and deep satisfaction, perhaps it is the result of true contentment with one’s situation— but joy has very little to do with one’s “toys” or one’s accomplishments, or and is not even immediately fulfilled by having a family.
I have thought much about this, and will always still think more— but I believe that Joy is intimately related to one’s purpose, and can be fulfilled only be aligning oneself accordingly. Purpose is the most difficult to define. What is the “purpose” of a life? Is it something more than the biological mission to procreate and evoke new life?
We are unique animals, humans. I do believe we carry a mission greater than procreation. Why? Because we can. Define your purpose. Why? Because you can. Aim HIGH. Why? Because you are SO POWERFUL. Startingbloc is a strong believer in Marianne Williamson’s quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
My father never defined his purpose (for a host of socioeconomic and personal reasons) and thus never found life-sustaining joy from within. But I will define mine. This summer, I will take active steps to learn about myself in this sense.
- I do not have a “job”. No internship, no café-barista, nothing resume-friendly— intentionally. I will first focus on completing the immediate grieving process, which, though lifelong, can be tackled in phases.
- I will then read, and learn, and become educated on ALL of the topics that I find compelling. Find me a willow tree, and beneath thee I shall sit. For a long, long time. I can’t wait.
- I will learn some sort of code-related skill: Ruby (on Rails), HTML5, or Python. Advice on which to choose?
- I will write (blog) intermittently- perhaps biweekly. Quality over quantity.
I am ready to stop shirking life, and will instead greet it and learn from it all that I can. Here’s to moving forward.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections— via email, or phone, or in the comments below.
All the best, Alex