My, oh my. Suffice to say that this week held a lot of weight, both in promise and burden. I’ve tied up loose ends, chased new leads, closed doors for the last time, said goodbye even when I was afraid to, did a reading at my great grandma’s funeral, came to terms with my relationships through radically honest and somewhat blunt reflection, figured out my personal and relationship goals for the upcoming year, caught up with an old friend, finalised and submitted documents for my scholarship and college application, responded to brand emails, wrote out a series of blog posts, organised my laptop and set up a new stock image subscription, spent three days at my grandma’s place in the blue mountains, tried a horribly sloppy budget gozleme option, and well, the list goes on. To say I’m overwhelmed doesn’t even brush the surface of how I feel in this moment. Ultimately though, I’ve always been wrapped in grace. I’m choosing to trust in this promise and try my best not to get caught up in overthinking and wondering what could have been. All we have is today.
Earlier in the day, I was hit with some news from my partner that reminded me of how fragile we all truly are. It rocked me to my core, if I’m honest. Two years of loving him and somehow, I’d been oblivious to this fact the whole time. As a little boy, amongst his twelve surgeries before the age of three, my partner had cancer. How does one broach such a sensitive topic, I wondered to myself? Yes, he may have started the initial conversation, but what questions, even asked in good faith, would be appropriate? There was a moment’s pause, both for respect and reflection. Lots of new information to digest. Hesitantly, I asked how old he was when the cancer diagnosis came through. Shortly following that, in the gentlest and calmest voice I could muster, what sort of cancer? He said he didn’t know. He couldn’t recall it and perhaps he was better off this way.
This made a lot of sense to me because I’ve learnt over the years that the mind blocks out excess trauma as a way of keeping you stable and afloat. We are only human and can’t take so much without becoming spent and losing all optimism we once held. To continue on with a hopeful heart and fighting spirit, to prevail, we must set aside all that is heavy and turn it over to the one whose shoulders can bear it all. Of late, I’ve found myself considering the concept of easy love. I know the only effective way to quench my feelings of missing out is to go and create a life for myself. A life that doesn’t revolve around anybody else or rest on their capabilities and decisions. I think you’d call that freedom. Who has a complete sense of that though? After dinner the other night with my family, we stopped at McDonalds for coffee. It was pretty rainy and cold. There was a group of teens sitting across from us- three guys and two girls. One pair was obviously a couple. The guy had his hand slung across her waist and he was playing with her hair. He kissed her cheek and I just felt overwhelmed. It seemed so easy for other people to love without a care or worry in the world. They just looked so relaxed. They were street kids, almost urchins. Those types who think dressing up means wearing clean sweatpants. They looked like they were doing well though. The other girl kept looking at me with a sort of blank curiosity. It was almost like she was asking me “Who are you? What are you about? Where do you fit in?”
I approach myself with the same quizzical nature sometimes. My brother is ten but he’s fairly perceptive. Especially lately, he’s been picking up on my energy and mood perfectly. He told me I seemed sad and asked what was wrong. I said that I felt like I’d missed out on this whole teen lifestyle. Parties, going out with friends all the times, a high school boyfriend. You know. The typical things. While I don’t even truly believe this life would speak to or be right for me, I don’t want to be an outsider. I’ve always been stuck in this weird lull, this in-between. Not quite here or there. My brother told me that he’d written a speech on acceptance and fitting in and that one of his tips to other people who were struggling was to talk to a sibling. That’s what he was doing. Being a listening ear for me when I needed it. He told me that no, he couldn’t see me fitting in with or feeling comfortable around people like that. More importantly though, I don’t need to. Better yet, would I want to? Would I want to be like them? I often feel like I’m on a higher path but I’m pushing through thorns to get to the rose bushes. Internally, at least, I feel all scratched up. My partner received some disheartening news from his lung doctor the other day. Apparently, his functioning has decreased to thirty percent. You just don’t think about these things- how good it feels to be able to breathe clean, fresh air and have as much of it as you need. My partner likened breathing when he’s off his machine to breathing after you’ve been running for ten minutes straight. You’re just gasping for air and can’t get your words out.
This has not been a bad week but one full of teachable moments. I came to many realisations and can speak to having grown through what I’ve gone through. One of the main things I came to understand is that I cannot keep living like I’ve been promised forever and a day. I also cannot approach other people in a manner that shows I take them for granted. I feel like I do well at appreciating the blessings that have been bestowed on me but I wanted this to serve as a reminder that better can always be achieved. I must reenergise my life and recommit to a constant journey of goodness. Recently, I signed up for a newsletter subscription service called the Stoic. They send daily messages rooted in the teachings of philosophers and brilliant minds through the centuries. On that note, I’d like to share a few of the emails I received this week that were beyond eye opening.
Life is hard. We face insurmountable odds with so many problems. We get bad news. We mess up. We find out that what we wanted—what we deserve, what is fair— is just not in the cards for us. Think about Pete Frates. In his late 20s, he was hit by a pitch in an amateur league baseball game. At the doctor, shortly thereafter, it was discovered that he had ALS. Talk about “crying, stung by bee.” A sports injury uncovered a terminal diagnosis.
That could have been the beginning of a sad story for Frates, but it wasn’t. Instead, he threw himself into raising money for ALS. “The man upstairs has a plan for me,” he said, “This is the hand I’ve been dealt, and I’ve made my peace with it. There are people out there that don’t have my support system or my advantages and I want to help them.” And he did. With the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Frates helped raise over two hundred million. “Pete Frates changed the trajectory of ALS forever and showed the world how to live with a fatal disease,” the ALS Association said.
Even when he was paralyzed, wheelchair-bound, without the ability to talk, and having to be fed through a tube, he never stopped. To the very end, he was not resigned. He fought. He helped. He made a difference. He did not give in to despair. He adapted, and transformed his fate into something that mattered.
His courage, his creativity, his commitment, it models exactly what Marcus Aurelius wrote about in meditations. Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces—to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it—and makes it burn still higher.
In December last year, Pete Frates passed away at the age of thirty four. His battle lasted eight years but the fire he started will keep burning. Especially if you light a torch from it and use it to start your own. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it. That’s Amor Fati or A Love of Fate.
Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… the one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time. Well said, Seneca. The powerful and the wise have been finding ways to remind themselves of their mortality for centuries. Their art is filled with it. Their writing muses over it. Their desks were staged with totems to remind them of the urgency of life. They would keep reminders close to their body too, wearing Momento Mori rings, cufflinks, even tattoos. They never wanted to forget: We can go at any moment.
The Stoic finds this thought invigorating and humbling. Remembering this fact is one of the most important and critical of Stoic exercises. It is not surprising that one of Seneca’s biographies is titled “Dying Every Day.” After all, it is Seneca who urged us to tell ourselves “You may not wake up tomorrow,” when going to bed and “You may not sleep again,” when waking up as reminders of our mortality. Or as another Stoic, Epictetus, urged his students: “Keep death and exile before your eyes each day, along with everything that seems terrible— by doing so, you’ll never have a base thought nor will you have excessive desire.” In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius exclaims “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” That was a personal reminder to continue living a life of virtue now and not wait.
The French painter Philippe de Champaigne expressed a similar sentiment in his painting “Still life with a skull” which showed the three essentials of existence – the tulip as life, the skull as death and the hourglass as time. The original painting is part of a genre referred to as Vanitas, a form of seventeenth century artwork featuring symbols of mortality which encourage reflection on the meaning and fleetingness of life.
This is only depressing if you miss the point. Used properly Momento Mori is a tool to create priority and meaning, one that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this. A simple reminder can bring us closer to living the life we want.
Well, think of this as a heart to heart- a gift from myself to you and a reminder to live your truth. I always find the lines of communication between myself and the beautiful community here to be so open. I’m grateful I can share these open, vulnerable moments with you. To end our chat here, I’d like to share the positives from my week as well as a musing from Eco Lifestyle content creator Miah Keleigh.
As for the highlights of my week, I spent a good three days at my Grandma’s place this weekend. Her and I have always been two peas in a pod, this being the case even more so as I’ve grown up. We arrived home in the Blue Mountains late on Thursday night, convinced there’d been a break in as her security company had called. At the time, we were in my apartment and Parramatta. I was exercising when the call came through, two minutes in and already needing a break. Well, things didn’t exactly go to plan. We had to rush to pack and leave in a very short time. Talk about getting your heart rate up. As it turns out, funnily enough, the intruder was a spider. It sat above the alarm and had probably climbed down and set it off at one time during the night. You can never be too careful though.
On Friday I managed to smash out a lot of the tasks I still was yet to do. Then, we headed out for the day. We went to stock up on groceries, visit the bank, the antique store, charity shop and a place called Circus Boutique in Katoomba. They had the most fun bohemian chic collection with lots of bright, eclectic pieces and some pared down options as well. After that, we headed to Mountain High Pies in Wentworth Falls. It could only be described as a vintage diner that looked like it was straight out of an American movie. The cutest cafe with so much personality. Outside was just as atmospheric. You were surrounded by beautiful trees and plenty of little flowers.
The next few days for us were spent in a state of relative peace. We had much needed sleep ins, for a start. Then a delicious takeout dinner of chicken pizza and a proper beef and cheese gozleme whilst watching Dexter on Stan or catching up on my Youtube subscriptions. I needed the real thing to offset the tragedy that we’d picked up from the grocery store. My bad, haha. When we weren’t feasting, we were snacking. Neapolitan ice cream, rocky road, dare iced coffee, cheesecake, you name it. We had lots of chats about my impending move to the mountain and how we plan to renovate my room. We browsed through home inspiration images on Instagram and checked out different wallpapers and wall hangings. I’m still stuck on a gorgeous beaded tassel chandelier I included in a Weekly Inspiration post a few months back. I think we’ll be ordering it in a neutral shade this week. Anyway, back to Miah! Here are her words, paraphrased for brevity. She discusses authenticity in the digital world:
How authentic are you on Instagram? Have you ever cropped something out because it made a picture less aesthetic, sucked your belly in to look thinner, posed at a certain angle to look fitter, deleted a photo because you no longer felt that you looked good in it or asked your friends for their opinions before posting? If so, do you think this makes you less authentic? Instagram is a highlight reel- we all know that.
We post pictures we think we look good in and save the “realness” for our friends and finstas. How authentic is that- or is authenticity only expected from people who label themselves as creators, influencers, bloggers, artists and the like as they have a prominent platform and should feel obliged to set an example due to potentially having a larger following? Many people are of the belief that Instagram can be damaging. As we’ve all seen, this is down to the way it is used.
We have autonomy on this app: we choose what to create, who to work with, who to be sponsored by, who to follow and who to block. It appears people find authenticity to be synonymous with vulnerability and an open display of emotions that bring with them a negative connotation. These are not things everybody is comfortable sharing online, after all. Can you recall a time where someone has asked “how are you?” and you’ve answered with a simple “fine, thanks” even if you feel anything but? If you can’t express vulnerability to one person, why would you express that to a very public audience of over 3,000? (in my case, at least!)
Happiness is authentic too. Planning a feed can be authentic. Yes, some are calculated, but most individuals create and curate of portfolio of expression. Sponsored posts can be authentic if you decline partnerships because they don’t align with your ethics and values. Instagram can be an utterly transformative platform but I’m tired of myself and others receiving backlash for how we express joy and perceived success. We all have insecurities, doubts and flaws. Like most people, I find myself a slave to comparison, even when I don’t mean to or want to be. Like most people, I question what being authentic is. My truth is that it’s simply being, and we should allow others to do just that.