Having been born on the Northern Pacific coast of California, it's tempting to claim romantically that my earliest memory is that of the Pacific Ocean. In reality, my first memory is the birth of my sister; my father chasing me through stacks of new tires in the automotive department of a store, the smell of clean rubber heavy in the air, while my mother was in the hospital.
I spent the evening of my twentieth birthday knee-deep in the Pacific Ocean. It was a cool San Diego night, and as I cupped my hands and raised some water to my lips, it seemed as if I could hear the cosmic tumblers falling into place. The safe was being cracked, and I found myself bracing against the waves as a world of possibility was suddenly presented to me. It may not have been my first time seeing the Pacific, but it was certainly my first time to truly See it. That night, drinking Tecate and eating homemade mole poblano chicken, I wondered if I ever would go home again, or if I ever could go home. I did, but only in the literal sense, in the concrete sense. It was too late; the pilot lights had been lit, and I knew in the back of my head that the person returning to Kirbyville was not the same person that had left two weeks earlier.
The twentieth year of my life was perhaps the most extraordinarily productive. It was a time of some crucial self-discovery. I drank heavily from the Pacific, Atlantic, and the Gulf. Without sounding like some wiseacre New Age goat, I dare say that it was the first time I felt enlightened, that I could recognize my place in relation to the Universe and, instead of feeling resentment or fear at its immensity and my own insignificance, I felt contentment, peace, and absolution.
I didn't have nearly as much figured out as I thought I had, or, if I did, much of it has been clouded by time, addictions and obsessions, ephemeral distractions. I regret that in the four years since, I haven't shown much restraint. I've ignored limitations, and I've lived selfishly, for the moment, and with little regard to health or the strain put on my relationships with those around me. Thankfully, I have a few friends who have never shown doubt, never been condescending, and who have stood by me all the while, and for them I will be eternally grateful.
With the help of these comrades, and with a good deal of prudence on my part, I'm entering an entirely new phase of my life now; adulthood. I haven't had a drink in almost two months, I'm making plans to continue the education I abandoned six years ago, I am reading and exercising voraciously, and I've discovered new passions to which I devote my time. I have also begun to understand the burden that I have been on the shoulders of loved ones, and how much I truly owe to them for bearing me for so long. I am now my own responsibility.
In these past few weeks, waking each morning with a clear head, unfettered by the bullshit that plagued my sleep not so long ago, I have begun to feel more and more as I did Back Then, when I was twenty, a Greyhound bus pilgrim, calloused hands from bicycles and guitars, equally versed in Bane lyrics and Watts' Zen Buddhist essays. It's a feeling of the realization of the Potentials of Self, of being youthfully immortal, of being truly passionate. I realize now that my twentieth year was perhaps the most important in my life thus far, and as I go forward into this strange new world, a hungry hyena with sharpened claws*, even as I learn and progress and grow into these new shoes, it is my twentieth year I find myself reaching back to, dipping my cup into the well.
These are the things we need to remember. Dead or insane, we're no use to anyone, and the world is far too cold and immense to face alone. For these reasons, let us show prudence and patience in regards to our health, and the health of our interpersonal relationships. In all other ventures, though, show no mercy. Hold your passions with a lover's embrace. There is no reason to follow any pursuit that you don't believe in with all of your heart. How can we expect to find happiness if we willingly deny it at every turn?
All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet**, and we are but metal shavings shook from the whetstone used to sharpen the Great Cosmic Knife. We are not given many clues as to our duties during our short stay on Earth, and those few clues we are given can be so complex and disheartening that very few have the patience or capacity to translate them into digestible chunks of data. I think it should come as no surprise that a similar serenity and wisdom is seen in the eyes of both the very young and the very old. We can achieve this, no matter our age or situation, if we open ourselves to the possibilities offered to us, if we spread our sails and capture a bit of that quixotic wind coursing through our lives.
Oh, to be twenty forever. Maybe I will.
Much love to you on your twentieth birthday. Keep your eyes wide, your mind open, and your heart racing. We're young, we're strong, and we have all the time in the world to polish our scars for presentation. We are so dangerous, and don't they know it. Don't let 'em stop you.
*Graciously paraphrasing Henry Miller
**Graciously plagiarizing Hunter S. Thompson