i was once twenty-two

but not in the same way.

Some weeks ago, I met a twenty-two year old who expressed great surprise at my age (i’m turning thirty-six late this year) and promptly said in the most wide-eyed and enthusiastic fashion,

“Wow, that’s pretty old! What have you done with your life?”

She didnt mean for her question to throw me into an existential crisis. She asked it because her life was full of possibilities and she could only imagine great things ahead of her and so obviously that extended to everyone else. Because I’d lived longer, she expected to be told a story of my achievements, to be impressed and perhaps to be re-assured that that was what life is like, that all of one’s dreams will be realised.

I looked at her and said,

“That’s a pretty challenging question, y’know.”

She blinked a couple of times and the beginnings of pity began to come over her youthful completely unguarded face.

Well, it’s one thing to feel that you’ve done nothing worthwhile, it’s quite another thing to have someone else think that.

So I told her the usual tales, about how I’d riden up to Darwin along the east coast around the time of the Hanson anti-asian phenomenon, how I’d negotiated the various little rural Australian towns, journeyed into what I’d imagined was the dark (or maybe bleached-bone) heart of the anglo-Australian psyche and in the northern wet season written a novel about it. I told her about how I’d come to terms with my family, spent some time in South East Asia looking at it through the eyes of a stranger, a tourist and then a troubled returnee and how my feelings were still ambivalent. I told her about how I’d lived through three relationships, each of which had broken and then transformed me.

She listened with a focus that I found flattering. And after I’d finished, I could see that it wasnt the kind of life she wanted for herself, but it satisfied her that I’d lived one, that I’d done something. It was clear that in a way, she was impressed.

But then, I didnt tell her all the things that I’d wanted to do, had never done and am now coming to realise will never do.

3 thoughts on “i was once twenty-two

  1. Wow, I loved this entry!! It really makes you think, doesn’t it? What would I say I have done with my life? How does letting go of certain dreams because some things just aren’t as important as you thought they would be, fit in? Is that an achievement or still, an unrealised dream? How long a version do you get to tell your ‘life story’? I realise thats what’s missing here. “What have you done with your life?” is the wrong question. “What have you learned?”, or “What have been really important experiences?” are much more relevant in my view. Those are achievements that matter in the end I believe. Not cliche things such as travelled all over the world (maybe without ever experiencing it), a well paid job (that you might not enjoy), fame and money kind of stuff.
    Love and big hugs, Hannie

  2. Ah, my good friend 🙂
    I’m so glad you referenced your blog at the end of your last email to me.
    How I’ve enjoyed being able to click on “cheque-boo…ightenment” (as it appears on my bookmarks bar) and be treated to interesting, insightful, thoughtful and exquisitely expressed moments or experiences of your life. It makes me feel like I’m re-connecting with you, even though it has been in a voyeuristic fashion, as I’ve failed to offer you the same glimpse into my life.
    Tien, I love the way you write.
    I miss you, my friend.
    A big squeezing hug (and probably a quiet ,admiring feel of your pecs),

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