Did you realize that these days you have fewer friends than you used to? Think about it. I’m not talking about acquaintances or the number of people you know – obviously these will only logically increase with your number of years. I’m talking about real friends, those whom you deem close to you and who you are emotionally attached to. And while we’re on that subject, did you also notice that you seem to care less about a lot of things you used to give a hoot about?
I used to find myself in events and social gathering that I would dread having to go to now. Thank God people gather less these days. I used to totter around with heels so uncomfortable my toes went numb. It was fun then but now I wear sensible work girl shoes. I used to enjoy having friends with questionable ethics doing borderline illegal stuff, but these days I'm a concerned citizen with a pepper spray. I used to worry a lot about family members/friends who struggle with issues, but now I have learned to be selective about them - some are worth everything and some are worth very little.
Whether we notice it or not, as we move past our phases in life we also drop and leave behind things and people that we no longer require. We don’t announce the end of friendships, but most will just fizzle away with the tide of an old lifestyle, as we start growing towards different personal directions. We don't publicly declare a 'type', but we slowly find ourselves attracted to only a group of certain people now. Subconsciously our minds are also built with a certain emotional threshold. Suddenly a lifelong family or relationship issue that seem to bog us all these while will come to a screeching halt and we find ourselves not slaving our energies to it any longer.
Sometimes, the actions are deliberate. We soberly and consciously make the decision to quit a relationship, a lifestyle or an ambition simply because it doesn’t fit us anymore. These are the hardest ones to do. To say goodbye to something familiar, to bid farewell to someone because he/she is no longer contributing to our happiness and to leave a life we knew so well because it is no longer making us contempt is a difficult feat. When I decided to stop taking sugared drinks seven years ago, it was sad because I really loved Coke. But it was necessary and I had to do it, and these days I don’t even like sweet beverages at all. Okay, maybe my example is not that profound, but you get the idea.
Over the years I had gone through many goodbyes. Some were unnoticed until they were gone, some were forced on me and some were choices I had to make to ensure I am better off, hopefully. I had to leave some parts of my lifestyle that I felt was not doing much for me anymore, and some relationships with friends and relatives fizzle off due to, well, life. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in cutting ties. I think it’s unhealthy to pretend that some things doesn’t exist when it does, or not acknowledging knowing someone whom you were obviously destined to have met in life. Rather, I believe in letting go. Letting go means you appreciate what has happened but are parking it in a slot in your mind where it will remain static – you will no longer progress to spend much time on it for now.
Letting go of something also means that you’re allowed to visit its memories once in a while. There is comfort in realizing that if you hadn’t known somebody or lived a certain life in the past, you would’ve never had these set of circumstances that ended you where you are today, with the things that you do have and the lessons you have learned. Some things are not good for you now but were so good back then while it lasted. It is not wrong to reminisce or even miss them a little. Sometimes I think about those days I went out all night and swam in the ocean at 4 am and I am filled with jealousy of the old me. But then the clock strikes 11 pm and I get a headache and I’m so glad I’m in my warm bed with iFlix instead because honey, this is my idea of a good night these days and there ain’t nothing wrong with that either.
On the fourth day of 2016, I was back in my office and the excitement of the New Year have calmed down (not really. I found myself still gleefully wishing ‘Happy New Yearrr!’ to random strangers I met at the lift). I was talking to a friend when he dropped the revelation bomb.
“Do you realise that we’ll be 30 before we know it?” (Yes, and it physically hurts my gut)
“If we live to be 60, which is the average statistical number of years people currently live, that means we have lived almost half our lives! Have you done anything significant?”
And with that, my 2016 hurrah fell splat on the floor and died.
As he went on about his goals of being a millionaire (okay maybe he didn’t say exactly that, but that was the gist I got), my mind had already wandered off somewhere else. The state of panic had caused my brain to immediately do a quick flash back on my highlights of the past 10 years. Strangely enough, instead of the big, ‘significant’, recognisable things that happened to me, my mind seemed to be flashing random images of mundane life incidents. Like that time I was on the bus on the way to work because I haven’t bought a car. Or the time I watched a starry sky on a shipdeck after being stranded there for three weeks for work. My first night in my new, empty apartment and I was excited about it. People. Lots and lots of images of people who came, then stayed or left but made a difference anyway. Beautiful quiet Sunday mornings at home with brunch. Laughing with friends. Laughing with my Mom. Chasing a train somewhere in Vietnam. Crying at movies. Crying at boys. Jumping off a jetty into the sea at sunset. Flying a kite. Eating fois gras and discovering that it’s overrated. Writing at my favourite spot by the window.
My mind doesn't seem to flag some of the bigger things that I had done or seen. It missed out graduation. Or getting highest in class for a subject. Buying designer bags. Buying a car. Working. People whom I thought did me wrong. Extravagant weddings. Pretentious parties. As much as some of these things are important, standard milestones, it doesn't seem to feel that they had a significant impact on my hard drive memory.
There is always a pressure to fulfil our lives with generic goals that the environment around us seem to have set for everybody. Unfortunately, more often than not these have the least impact on our personal self-growth. I am not all saying that getting job isn’t important, or that owning property isn’t momentous. In fact, that may very well be the case for some of us. My point here is that what is significant for you may not necessarily be the same as what is significant to other people, and vice versa. Your idea of a life well lived isn’t always the same as your friends or what your parents have envisioned for you. I have a friend whose vision of a great life is having lots of kids and they all gather around for Raya every year. On the contrary, I also know someone who quit her job to focus on being a photographer, is still currently struggling to get her work recognised but is embracing her current lifestyle because it is what she has always aspired to be. Unfortunately a lot of us (read: myself included sometimes) tend to conclude that what’s different from the norm is often ‘sad’. Which makes us the sad ones, really.
So when the question arose about whether I have done anything significant, I was more concerned if I had spent the past thirty years living someone else’s life. Did I do the things I wanted to do? Did I live the way I wanted to live, however weird, odd and perplexing the choices may see from the outside? Did I pay attention to the little details that make up to the sum of a wonderful, adventurous life?
“So, are you where you thought you’d be by now?” the friend asked.
I sighed. I am so glad the answer wasn’t no.
I will be the first to admit that yes, I am a sucker for New Year. I know a lot of people tend to think that the whole ‘New Year, New Me’ thing is such an overplayed cliché, but I respectfully disagree! I love the idea that a new year can be used as a kick off medium to further improve yourself through resolutions. I especially love looking back at a past year and realising that I have in fact achieved them in my aspirations to become a better person (I hope). For example, in 2015 I have achieved my goal of not watching the Kardashians anymore, wearing sunblock everyday (yes, every damn day!), keeping a good tab on my daily prayers, making an effort to join more charity work than 2014 and exercising at least twice a week. They are small milestones, but they made a huge difference in my life.
For the past week I had been reflecting on 2015 and concluded that I have had a shit year. Aside from some things that did go well, the rest sort of went downhill from the get-go. Feeling melancholic, I started writing a post about how sad and gloomy it had been. But this morning, as I scrolled down Facebook and saw everybody’s comments on what 2015 had been for them, I realised… everyone seems to have had a generally challenging year too. A couple of friends lost their jobs, some lost their loved ones, my neighbour got robbed, a mutual friend was diagnosed with cancer, deranged guys are killing civilians, racist weirdos are Prime Ministers and Presidents, and the list goes on.
As I read through this, it dawned on me that I am officially and undoubtedly, an ungrateful little twat. Sure, just because everyone has bigger problems does not mean mine are less valid. But looking around, amidst all the tragedies there are so many things to be happy about. One day we were having a family meal, a feast, more like, and while everyone was tucking in my Dad said, “Do we realise that some people don’t even get to eat?” He didn’t mean to be a buzzkill, but it sure made the food taste even better, because it made everyone at the table have gratitude and ultimately, happier for the simple blessing that is food on the table. And family to eat with. In a stable home. Such a wonderful life.
So in 2016, one of my resolutions is to project gratitude. I don’t want to just sit in my comfy apartment wearing nice clothes eating fancy food and say I’m grateful. That is NOT enough. Gratitude needs to be exhibited. Portrayed. Whether it be through trying to help others with small gestures, doing my part for the environment, getting off my bum and out there doing physical charity (rather than just ‘liking’ a photo on FB) or even simple things like not being wasteful and accepting challenges in life with a hindsight that there are so many other things I’ve got going on for me.
On a more selfish note, there is this Islamic saying I read somewhere that says “until you are grateful, you will never get better things in life”. And I want better things!! So here is to being grateful.
Note: Other 2016 resolutions include – sleep for 7 hours max in a day, watch less than 3 hours of TV per week (exception: The Walking Dead, Homeland, Game of Thrones), see one new place per month, go for Umrah, learn a new skill (last year was Yoga). Terms and conditions apply.
Another note: Last night I went to see the NYE fireworks in the city. The grandma in me initially detested this idea, but it turned out to be so much fun! Gotta add this to my 2015 highlights.