I am in New Zealand now, checking one of the biggest items on my lifelong bucket list. It had always felt like a faraway unattainable dream, so it is surreal being here now, surrounded by endless trees and green rolling hills. And I am here with someone whom I want to share the experience with.
I once told a couple of friends that I live life as though I have a 50/50 chance of dying at any given moment. They laughed. It is grossly statistically inaccurate of course, but I don’t think unfortunate events care very much about statistics.
As I got older and had gone through several life-changing events, I learned it is not about literally dying but rather it is about being prepared for the death of metaphorical selves we had, events we have no way of anticipating, the unexpected departure of people. We think of life as linear and progressive but for me it feels more like sudden sharp turns and cliffs. There were so many events I didn’t see coming, so many partings I didn’t plan. It is like being swept up in a tide and there’s very little I can do except go along with it, though usually after a tiring period of resistance.
So I am sort of in a race against time, fervently trying to do what I want to do in case for some reason I can’t do them anymore. The older we get, the more commitments we are obligated to pick up, the less free we become. People around us are getting older, we ourselves are getting older, my health seems to have a life of its own. I have been through long periods when I am unable to do much except curl up in pain, so I feel extra appreciative of the times I can do a one-hour hike, take in the beautiful environment around me without a pounding sharp pain in my head and eyes. Half the time I am resentful of the pain, the other half I remain grateful to it because it has made me want to do a lot more in my pain-free time than I would normally have. If not for the constant threat of my health, I would have led a more unconscious life, letting it bob me along a path not even of my own choosing, thinking that I’ll always have time and energy to do the things I want later on.
Sometimes we have time, other times we have energy, for me it is precious to have both and be aware of it.
It is a contradiction, being chronically suicidal and yet also being unwilling to take life for granted. Sometimes I can be in the most beautiful of places but feel numb to it, still not understanding why are people so attached to life that they would do anything to protect it. My personal theory is that it takes some sort of a life-force to appreciate life itself, and I don’t have much of it, needing to live like a monastic to carefully nurture it. So I don’t always live life on the edge, because I burn out easily. I live like a hermit back home, eating a strict diet, exercising everyday, keeping a strict sleep schedule, just so I can feel a bit more alive during these exhausting but beautiful experiences.
We’ve been on the road for three days, and I’m already exhausted from just driving an hour or two each day. There’s a fear of missing out, not knowing if I’ll ever be back here in this part of New Zealand again, yet I can’t risk burning out in the middle of nowhere. I have to learn to let go.
I guess that is the story of my life, at least for now. Learning to let go of most things so I can have a deep appreciation of whatever that’s left I can have. I guess life is about assessing the risks we are willing to take and the trade-offs we are willing to make. I am uncertain about the future, so all I can do is to make the best out of now, in the ways I am capable of. I am not sure when health-scares are going to pop up, whether for me or my loved ones, not sure how life would be like under the effects of climate change, not sure about the geo-political stability of the world, not sure about the resources I can have in the future. But even without all these risks I know life will change, so I’m in a constant race against time to live as much as possible.
I think a lot of it comes from the desire to compensate for not living a very unconscious, fear-driven, societal-directed life in the first 35 years of my life. I am still figuring out what it means to be truly self-directed, and if it is even possible with all the inevitable conditioning and inter-dependency we have.
I do know that travel, apart from books, is one of the most life-shaping forces for me, and I want to do as much of it as possible while I still can.