I have probably made a hash of my life. Most people do. Without a dress rehearsal, you don’t expect anybody to offer a peak performance on the opening night. At least I can say I created my mess mostly by myself. It would have been a double tragedy if I had bungled things on other people’s advice. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have lived my life in my own light, however dim that light may be. I certainly wouldn’t have liked to live a life according to others’ choices. The mistakes are all mine, and the credit for occasionally avoiding them is also mine.
This is the fun part of having reached the latter stage of my life. No one has much leeway when he or she is at mother’s breast or father’s feet. Even in school and college one’s freedom of choice is quite limited. When you start working, the choice is a little broader, at least for some. Still there are too many rules to observe. That ends when you stop working, or – as in my case – you start working for yourself. Your choice is much broader. This is the time to live for yourself.
You could also ask yourself: What have you ever enjoyed doing? Perhaps there was something you had pleasure in doing, making, creating, listening, writing or performing. Perhaps it was in the distant past, nearly forgotten, and is now merely a fragrant memory, but it could be worth recalling and exploring. The world has an insidious way of encroaching on our loves and sweeping them away like a discarded toy. Now may be the time to retrieve that plaything and play with it again.
I write this not as a prescription for others to follow, but as a tentative guidepost for myself. Nobody can tell me what is best for me today. I don’t know it either. But to live my life must mean pursuing the butterfly that catches my fancy.
Then last year I started writing a few pieces that had nothing to do with my work. Some essays, some memoirs. Even some stories. Some I write in my first language, that of my birthplace. Others I write in the language of my adopted land. I have also written some in a third language that has grown closer to my heart. In each idiom I feel a unique sense of freedom that I can’t seem to find in others. I am not trying to impress people with my versatility; I am just struggling to speak my heart. It is amazing how different the languages are, and how differently they let me express what I feel.
Nor am I trying to be Proust or Tolstoy, a great auteur. I am simply eager to express the ideas circling in my mind. That is my way of staying happy. Which is another way of saying: That is my way of living my own life, doing something that seems pleasant and meaningful.
Like many of our other assumptions, the great assumption that life is the best when one is young seems increasingly false. The ups and downs of youth, its uncertainties and acute miseries, often overshadow its buoyancy, and researchers are telling us aging brings a bigger share of peace and joy. It certainly allows a closer move toward your deepest values. It lets you do what you have long deferred: find yourself.
I would not take my dog’s admiration as proof that I am quite wonderful. Nor would I, as Goethe once said, if I were to find myself, I would want to run away. Wonderful or not, I just want to live my own life, uncluttered by others’ expectation, undaunted by others’ demands. Just my life.