[Editor’s note: Today’s article is a guest post written by my brother, who is not only younger and better looking than me, but a pretty good writer as well. He has some great stories and an insightful philosophy on life. I’m delighted to share this one with you. Enjoy.-HP]
When you fall, I’ll be there.
We all are plagued at times by our insecurities and fears. Every last one of us. We cannot escape no matter how much we try to suppress these very primal emotions. They are, and will always be, there like a splinter in our minds (I know this is a blatant Matrix rip off, but hey, it totally works here). At the root of this insecurity is the fear that we will not be accepted.
Some try and counter this feeling by hiding behind material things; a shiny new car or the big house on a corner lot with the perfectly manicured lawn. Some people claw their way into a position of power at their job, hoping they outrun their fears by climbing the corporate ladder. Maybe with status and more importance the fear of not being respected melts away.
The year was 2004. I was 26 years old and, like a lot of people in their mid twenties, I thought I had my life figured out. I had married my college sweetheart, bought a home in a nice neighborhood, and a shiny new red pickup truck (with the chrome package of course) sat in the driveway. Our son was nearly 2 years old. I had recently accepted a position in my father-in-law’s import company as his Logistics Manager.
Everything was going the way I thought it was supposed to, yet there was still fear and insecurity just under the surface.
Like many others, my fears in life stemmed from acceptance. We had recently moved to Southern California and I found myself struggling to fit in. My mind constantly worried.
Would my new friends accept me for who I am, or judge me for what I possess?
Would my father-in-law base his opinion of me on my performance, or simply view me as a charity case because I married his daughter?
Would my wife be satisfied with the life I was trying to provide for us, or would she regret her choice of a husband?
Would I be able to climb high enough?
Would I be able to obtain enough?
Could I manage it all without falling?
I didn’t have the answers to these questions.
I sat on a beach in Cabo San Lucas, seeking respite from my “suffering”. There was comfort in contemplating my problems in a beer soaked haze under a palapa on the beach. As I was mulling over what size T.V. could fit into my built-in entertainment center, my father ambled up to me and said, “We’re going skydiving. I’ve already paid.”
We all fear falling figuratively in some regard. It turns out my fear of falling was actually quite literal. Skydiving was not something I had ever aspired to do. I don’t care for airplanes. I’m not a big fan of heights. The thought of merging these two negative things together soured my stomach, but I was unwilling to take the chance of being a failure in the eyes of my father.
After brief contemplation, I made my decision. “F*ck it. Why not?” I muttered under my breath, briefly contemplating what a reasonable blood alcohol level would be for jumping out of an airplane.
After a very quick (unnervingly so) “safety briefing” on the beach with our tandem partners we were off. Our transportation to the airport was far from luxurious. In fact, it was outright horrifying. I actually think vans utilized for prisoner transport in the United States are in far better shape than what I was riding in. Twenty or 25 years of complete neglect were glaringly obvious. It appeared that at some point in this van’s storied past, something in the engine bay had caught fire based on the bubbled and blistered paint that remained on the hood. The interior upholstery was equally abused. Threadbare and frayed, no attempt had been made to repair barely repressed springs from protruding through the fabric.
While avoiding injury and mentally noting my last tetanus shot, I was trying to pinpoint the origins of the smell emanating from the interior. It was on the verge of being intolerable; my best guess was years of booze, suntan lotion, and body odor that had permeated the seats. The only sound from the radio was an annoying hiss, broken up on occasion by traditional Mexican music. The filthy windows in the back of the van had long lost the ability to open, amplifying my fear of suffocating. The tires were so bald that I could see the steel threads sticking out. The shocks had lost their ability to effectively absorb undulations in the bumpy dirt roads of Cabo years ago. Needless to say there was no air conditioning…
I had been to Cabo several times before this trip. My vacations in Mexico had been limited to the exclusive resort experience, where the staff focused on indulging their guests’ every desire. It was paradise. In my own mind, this is how the people here lived…living the beach lifestyle, enjoying sunsets over cocktails. I told myself this story and convinced myself it was true.
I was almost acclimated to the van when we set off on a very bumpy ride to the airport where our plane awaited. Now, bear in mind, this was not the fancy international airport that we flew into as rich American tourists. We were driving to a small municipal airport located in the heart of Cabo itself.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw next. There was nothing anybody could have told me that would have softened what I saw with my own eyes, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
As the van rattled down the bumpy dirt road on the way to our destination, I witnessed complete destitution. At least that’s what my first reaction was as the middle class American I was. I saw a level of poverty I’ve never imagined. There were rows of “houses” that were nothing more than appliance boxes. Children that were barely clothed were running wildly in the streets. I saw living conditions that I had never dreamed people on this Earth could live in. I knew it existed of course, but I had never seen it with my own eyes. It was never real to me like it was now.
What was most fascinating was the unmistakable undercurrent of happiness. The children were laughing while playing soccer; the adults were smiling and conversing and just living their lives. They were completely unaware of their lack of material goods. Happiness was emanating from the streets instead of from inside the van. How was this possible? It should have been the other way around. How could people be happy with having absolutely nothing? How could they be happier than me, driving to what should be an experience of a lifetime?
The more I looked though, I realized they did have something; maybe more than me in some ways.
In the ramshackle village we drove through I remember seeing an old man sitting in a broken rocking chair, puffing happily on a cigar, watching kids (I assume they were his grandkids) jumping gleefully in a mud puddle. I noticed a moderately complex series of clothes lines for drying clothes that ran from home to home. Several people were outside either hanging clothes up to dry or taking them down. It created what I could only describe as an odd sense of community.
Hell, whenever I came home from work I pulled directly into my garage and closed the door to avoid getting pulled into small talk with neighbors. I was too tired and busy to be bothered after a long day. Where I lived there was no real community. Our lives were measured in things, maybe because it was easier to keep a tally that way.
My mind was spinning, and I looked around at my fellow passengers to validate my feeling of shock, but they seemed indifferent to what was happening right outside the window. I peered outside once again, my brain having difficulty processing what this textbook definition of poverty and apparent happiness meant.
I fell that day.
From 15000 feet in the air, I jumped out of an airplane and landed softly on a beach in paradise. I conquered one of my greatest fears. Ironically, this was not the most significant thing that happened to me that day. I feel as if I woke up, as if I had been asleep all along. A new outlook on the world and the people that call it home emerged in my consciousness. I realized the triviality of most of the things that preoccupied my mind with worry. My perspective had shifted for the better, and I became a different person. I completely unplugged, if only briefly, from the trance I had been living in.
Thirteen years later, I still think about that van ride. When I am troubled by something in my life I bring myself back to that moment in time. It shifts my perspective. Happiness is much simpler than most people think, but they don’t know where to look. It is right in front of us. We just need the right circumstance to open our eyes and see it.
[Thanks again to my brother for writing this post. If you enjoyed this one show some love in the comments below-HP]