We’re All So Young

While I was in Malaysia last year I had several interesting conversations with some of my wife’s siblings.  One in particular has stuck in my mind.

Ahbi and I were at a mamak stall near the house enjoying a late lunch of roti telur and teh tarik.  A mamak stall is an open air restaurant run by Malaysian Indians.  Often the seating is in a parking lot or field that’s just been cordoned off with chairs or planters.  Sometimes it’s in a courtyard or under a structural roof like a pole barn or a lanai.  This particular one was really nice; it was mostly indoors, with two of the walls open.  Roti telur is a buttery flatbread with a scrambled egg cooked into it served with dal, sambal or curry.  You can also get it served with condensed milk or sugar, which Ahbi and I both enjoy sometimes.  And teh tarik is a sweetened black milk tea.

We were talking about how much we had both changed since the last time we’d seen each other.  I’ve always found it interesting that I am such a different person now than I was before.  “Before” can be almost any number of years earlier, and “now” can be pretty much any given moment in time.  Yet no matter when the “now” is, I can always point at some situation in my life or some behavior and say, “I would not have done that back then,” or “I would have handled that completely differently then.”  In fact, my behavior is sometimes so very different that it boggles my brain that I have a sense of “me” with that other strange and foolish person I used to be.  And I know that at some point in the future, this person that I am now will be associated with some other, better, different person who also has a sense of “me” linking the two of us together.

When I get my brain wandering down this path I almost always start lamenting about how by time I figure out how to be a good person at some stage in my life, my life has moved on and now I’m in some other stage bumbling around and being an idiot again.  I am continuously improving, I think, and I am happy with my improvements as well as embarrassed by how rough, crude or stupid I used to be.  But now, as I’m zipping through my midlife, I’m also very aware that I will be my best right around the time my endgame is playing out.  And that makes me sad, not because I’ll die — we all die — but because if I could have been this future Good Person sooner, I could have lived my life so much differently and grown so much more.

Really, 100 years just isn’t very long to figure much out, to do very much, to complete very much.

We’re so conditioned to see 80-100 year olds as being frail, tottery and often demented people who can’t look after themselves anymore.  Of course, we all know that’s just the body breaking down.  How would it be if we could apply all our experience and knowledge, all our growth, and our projects to another few hundred years?  Perhaps if our lifespan was a bit longer, we would be wiser as a species and as a culture.  I would like to think that the self-improvements and gained life experiences of a 300 year old would lend itself to much wiser decision making than that of a 60 year old.

And if we, as an entire species, were making wiser and neccessarily longer-term decisions, there is the potential that everything would be better. 

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