Thursday, October 9, 2014

On Friendship and Death

This morning I thought about someone I had not seen or communicated with for some time. I hesitate to use the term 'friend' as it is the word under scrutiny in this post. Well, we had been what one would call childhood friends. We grew up together, from around the age of seven or eight, till when I was twenty when life sent us our different ways. We played together, went on childhood adventures together and flirted with girls together. I recall him having kissed some girl in the estate and he came to tell me about it and describe how it was. I resolved to also kiss a girl and experience the feeling. As we grew older we even shared some drinks together. So yes, he was my friend back then. 

When I was twenty I packed my stuff and went to India - to get an education, it was said. This was in the 90s, before mobile phones became a gadget for the hoi polloi, this was before the age of the internet for the masses (at least in the third world) and social media was unheard of. Those days when you went away, and had no friends ready to commit to writing and licking postage stamps, that was it, you never saw or heard from each other until fate (or or Facebook years later) would conspire to bring you together. And that is how it went with my friend Peter. 

This is how I looked like growing up in the 80s, how my childhood friends might remember me

I never saw or heard from Peter until 6 years later when I was back in Kenya. Of course there were the occasional updates from mutual friends or acquaintances who had run into him -- stuff like "Peter is still in Nairobi and doing well...", stuff like that. When I came back to Kenya from my studies...well, three years of studies and two years of partying and figuring who I was, he was among the first guys I inquired about. About a year later I traced him and we were able to catch up on the good ol' days. We met several times over the next couple of years, had a chit chat here and there and when Facebook finally took over the world, we connected on Facebook and occasionally had the FB chat. 

But we were busy people with our own lives to live and promises like "we should link up and catch up over a beer..." were never fulfilled. So it has been several years since I last saw him. Occasionally I told myself that I need to make contact with him but that's all there was to it, telling myself. So this morning I thought about Peter. And because I did not have his number I thought about posting something on his Facebook wall. I always never have people's number because somehow I have never mastered the art of back-up, or I am not just disciplined at it. So I did not have his number and when you don’t have a friend’s number you look them up on Facebook. So I checked Facebook this morning.

What I saw on his wall were RIP messages. Messages dating back two years.  

At the beginning I put the word 'friend' under scrutiny because your friends don't pass on and you don't know about it for two years. That just sounds wrong. But maybe the essence of "friendship" changes over time, no? I mean, we meet at the workplace, became close, even share secrets, embed ourselves in each others' lives and when one get another job, moves to a new city or country that relationship starts to become faint and fainter until it is no more. Does friendship then end? Does a childhood friend cease becoming a friend because you no longer talk or see each other frequently? Or should friendship be judged on the experience you had together and be frozen for eternity regardless of what will become of you later in life? Someone once told me you only walk through life with one or two friends, that when you look back, you will only see one or two people who have walked with you through the different "epochs" of your life. That the rest have just been mere acquaintances through different stages of your life. The supporting cast, not the main actors. I choose to disagree. If Peter had not been my friend I would have not felt the extreme sadness I felt this morning.

I feel a sense of guilt that I never grieved him when it mattered. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On The Arrogance of Turning 40

Yes, I know I have been away from here for long but I will not bother to explain why, only maybe to mention that I have spent the better part of the last 20 months or so absorbing knowledge and reflection from all quarters. Sometimes it is good to simply keep quite and listen...and learn. That (and the occasional work - we all need to put bread on the table), is what I have been up to. 

In the process, I have also managed to detoxify myself...and not the bio-physical detoxification kind but more of the meta-physical, psychological, mental kind. I also became older. And stopped caring about much. Months of reflection made me realize that I almost stopped becoming what I should have been, and started becoming what I thought I ought to be. In a way I have also become "arrogant" - in that I don't really care what my social environment perceive me to be, feel that I don't have to be responsible for others. But again could this be just about getting old now that I have hit the big Four-O?

This is a passage I recently came across:

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. 

I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.” 

- José Micard Teixeira (words Meryl Streep)

I am not saying these words necessarily describe what I am today, but that I identify with most of it. I feel that as one ages, one starts to care less about the society's perception of their actions, their words and become more concerned about being authentic, about being themselves. I am now at a place where I no longer feel the insecurities of the world, I feel more creative, more alive, and feel like my life has just began. I now know what they meant when they said life begins at 40. 

I spent my formative years (in terms of developing my core values) in India, living their between 1994 to 1999. There are things that I saw, I felt, I learnt that shaped how my life was to become. Last year I went back to India for the first time since then, and as I visited the Taj Mahal, I had a chance to reflect on what I had carried with me from Hindustan (as we used to call it) all those many years ago. What I had lost that I needed to rediscover, and what I still had with me that I needed to lose. And now I feel lighter, and more creative. I have stopped doing the stuff that I did as duty, and now only do the stuff that I need to do out of love.  In a way, when one turns 40, they tend to become more arrogant...

At the Taj in October last year 

As I said at the beginning, I have spent time absorbing knowledge and the reflection of others. Now it is time to share my reflections and the knowledge I have gained as well. I have a feeling this ride will be merrier than the previous one!