Not to toot my own horn, but I was the sh#$t back in the day: Homecoming King, varsity athlete (in soccer and baseball; in soccer we reached the CIF finals and in baseball we won our division and I made all-league). 4.0 student. Dated the prettiest girl. Had the coolest hair. And the best physique and legs, if you believe senior year poll. Yes, I had arrived, reaching my adult stature (5'10) by the age of 15, and weighing 15 more pounds than I do now (all muscle, thanks much) I was probably stronger back then, surely I had more testosterone. I was a walking hard-on!
Yes, life was pretty good. And it was all so easy! I remember thinking at the time, this is how the rest of my life will be, living at the top. Of course it wasn't. By the fall I was just a number, one of 40,000 students at UCLA, my nights spent as a lowly waiter in a greasy Italian restaurant. I gained 20 pounds, broke out in a bad case of acne, my hair started falling out (which was temporary, thank God), and I fell into a black depression, which has waxed and waned in the 20 years that have elapsed since high school, during which time I'll admit I have known more failure than success.
Life has been a lesson in futility. If you define success as doing what you love, doing it well, and getting paid for it, I haven't achieved success. I have written stuff of questionable merit and hardly ever been paid for it. By society's standards, I am not exactly a poster child of high achievement. I earn practically no money, don't own a car, have practically zero friends. Not much glory there.
In my own defense I will say that you cannot judge your success by how you meet society's expectations. Most will admit that modern society is pretty screwed up. The planet is warming, obesity is rampant, people are homeless and unemployed and spend too much time online, mental illness is at an all-time high, etc. And what do we do for fun? If going out to a bar with your friends, swilling beer and eating chili dogs while you watch half naked men run around chasing a ball while you scope servers in short skirts is society's standard for weekend pastimes, then opting out may be the best thing to do. Although I've done a lot of the former. I guess there's nothing worse than a reformed anything. But nowadays I prefer to spend my freetime sitting in silence. I've gotten really good at meditating. So there's that. . . .
Sitting on the floor thumbing through that yearbook - I had more pictures than anyone else in the school, I think I was tied with Jamie Billett, the student body president who was also a member of various clubs and committees - and then turning to regard my forty-year-old face in the mirror, I couldn't help but notice the signs of time gone by. The wrinkles and sags, the sun spots. Was my hair thicker back in the day? All this depreciation despite living as cleanly as I can, putting only the best food in my body, exercising, taking vitamins, doing all the right things. I don't even have a vice unless you call eating 20 dates vicious, but I do that after a run so I need the sugar. Not to mention the shoulder and neck pain and will one day my memory fail?
Ah, cruel time! I was tempted to toss the yearbook a second time, but there was a lesson to be learned, two actually.
The first. I know why we age. The body gets old, and wrinkled, and broken, and pained, no matter how well you treat it, to turn our attention away from it, to convince us that we are not the body, to sever identification with these flesh and blood vehicles that are not what we truly are. The ancients posit that human birth is precious for the opportunity it presents to realize the God within, and the body is the instrument by which we obtain Self-realization, awareness of our divine identity. But most people identify with the body and fail to recognize or remember that they are the immortal soul giving life to the flesh, which existed before its birth and will survive its death. The soul - which unlike the body is not subject to the effects of time, because it is ageless, blameless, blemishless and eternally free. In short, that wrinkles and sun spots and other effects of age serve to turn our attention away from the transitory and unreal to the reality that shines within.
Second. The pleasures we encounter in life, whether of human companionship, material success, or those glory days gone by when we were at the top of the world, serve as fleeing reminders of the bliss that is our true nature. Savor all experiences. En-joy them, but know that when it's over, when success fades or good times end, that joy arises from within. For the bliss that is our essence is not here today gone tomorrow, but always there to be experienced, and felt, for it is truly what we are. And this bliss survives high school graduation. Once you get this fact, you graduate into truth.
Ah, I think I've finally arrived. But I do still sometimes miss those glory days.