This was at the request of a reader -- at several points in my life, I have started, but never finished, various books.
This contains accounts of two of my true childhood life experiences. At some point, I'd hoped to come back and add-in more "what I learned" type stuff (also, to finish the rest of it!). So this is just a little "sneak peek" of a book that may or may not ever be finished.
One of the biggest things I learned early on, as a result of these experiences (and others), is that I don't want to do anything to add to the unnecessary suffering of other people in this world; life is hard enough all by itself.
I soon realized I was on my back, but my legs felt pinned, or tangled in something. They were jumbled up in the exhaust system somehow. I couldn’t move them, but I was able to turn my head just enough to see my aunt’s face and tell her in panic, “I’m stuck!” She advised me not to struggle; to just stay put. Fat chance -- remaining pinned under this car sounded incredibly unappealing to me. I knew I was badly hurt, but I wanted to assess the specifics of my injuries -- I think that’s a basic human instinct. So I somehow untangled myself from the undercarriage and inched out the side.
It was then that I saw my knee.
After sliding myself out from under the car, my aunt wanted me to simply lie there on the street, but I was very uncomfortable. Unbeknownst to me, my back was a shredded, bloody mess and filled with loose gravel. The rear of the car had hit me first, and the front of the car was too low for me to squeeze under… so the car had pinned me beneath its center and dragged me, with my back sandwiched tightly to the rough macadam, over a distance of about 30 feet.
I also didn’t realize I had a deep, seven-inch-long gash across the very top of my head, which had split wide open to reveal the white of my skull. My head didn’t even hurt. But I must have been a truly horrifying sight.
As a kid, I always felt this was all kind of lame: I mean, who wants to tell people they got run over by their aunt's car in their own driveway? I longed for a cooler, more glamorous back-story to my trauma, though I'm not sure what I thought that would be. Maybe getting run over by the Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit would have been cool to tell my friends about. But alas, we take what we're given in life, and this decidedly uncool synchronicity of events led to me now riding down our old familiar dirt road in the back of a very unfamiliar ambulance.
As we reached the main road, the ambulance driver asked me if I'd like it if they turned the siren on, and I replied, “Sure, that would be cool.” I’m reasonably certain that he asked me this to make me think that the siren was my idea, in order to avoid scaring me further. Smart driver: it worked, and I didn’t figure out the psychology of his question until I was older.
The memories that follow are a mish-mash of dramatic goings-on in the ER, and my timeline for them is fuzzy. It seemed like I was being x-rayed and injected and sutured and bandaged and wheeled around, only to be x-rayed again, for days. In reality, they were probably working on me for about six or seven hours.
With Christmas upon us, I'm going to depart dramatically from my usual format, and share a true story from my childhood. I'm spending the holiday with family (updates will be sporadic or non-existent for the next two weeks), and due to certain events which have transpired in my life over the past couple years, this weekend I've found myself increasingly lost in reflection -- and largely uninterested in the market. This has left me with a strong desire to share something that goes beyond the market.
Though the true events recounted here began one spring many years ago, this is my Christmas story.
Feeling as if someone just pulled the chair out from under you, you begin a sort of internal free-fall into the fresh hole in your heart where your loved one used to be. And while you may not yet grasp the finality, the cold reality does truly begin to hit you -- and with gale force.
He asked if I was okay, if I needed to talk, and I said flatly, “No, I'm fine. I’m going back to sleep.” My complete lack of observable reaction probably confused and concerned him, so he continued sitting there for a while, trying to be reassuring. I wanted him to leave so I could fall back asleep -- maybe when I woke up later, life would have magically become normal again. I noticed that John was no longer sleeping on the floor. There were still numerous voices, and the sound of someone crying loudly, coming from the living room. Eventually my dad stood up reluctantly and walked out of my room, softly closing the door behind him.
I was alone in the darkness. I remember lying on my back and staring up into the dark void where I knew my ceiling was. I didn't want to believe my dad; it just didn't seem possible. How could life change this dramatically in the span of only a few hours? But I knew it was true -- intellectually, if not emotionally just yet.
In the months that followed, when no one was around, I would sometimes sit at the bottom of that dimly-lit and slightly-musty staircase, listening intently -- hoping to hear the sound of her heels (the ones she wore to dinner that last night) clacking against the kitchen floor as she approached. Or maybe hoping I would catch a glimpse of her shadow as it fluttered briefly into the stairwell when she passed by. Or maybe just hoping that something, anything, would happen to fill the silences which grew deafening in her absence.
I waited for hours. She never came.
But in those moments, I vowed to never take the people I love for granted again.
There was no way I could know this at the time, but twenty-seven years later, fate would test that vow. And the next time, I would pass that test. (Yet another story for another time, perhaps.)
Fate is fickle. Lives can and do change in an instant. I've personally never been able to put this concept down any more succinctly than Robert Herrick did in the 17th century, when he admonished us "to make much of time" and wrote:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Although we may feel the urge to become complacent about the future, life makes us one guarantee, and one guarantee only: this exact present moment. There really is no such thing as the future, except in our imaginations. This truth is even echoed to us regarding equities: "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." But in life's case, past performance is no guarantee of future. Period.
My point is not to be fatalistic. Quite the opposite: My point is that we should strive to avoid complacency in our approach toward life in general. During times of prosperity, it's easy to fall into patterns which are based on assumptions of a future which may never materialize. We put off phone calls, visits, and time with loved ones based on such assumptions. We prefer not to consider that by the time the future becomes the present, it may no longer be in a form that's even recognizable to us today.
If one wishes to avoid regrets, then the time to examine our complacency and challenge our assumptions is right now -- because while the future is always imaginary, with each successive tick of the clock "now" becomes part of the past. And that past is immutable.
We're goal-driven creatures, so we're often tempted to focus on the future as some sort of reward for the present. I think, in this regard, we can take a lesson from the end of the rainbow -- the "end result reward" is an illusion. There is no true end, not in the sense we want to believe. There's no perfection, no absolute completion, no "game over, baby, I beat life; can't wait 'til they come out with the sequel!"
If we can't find meaning right now, here in the present, then we never will. After all, when you finally get to the future, what do you actually discover? You discover it's still the present. There is nothing else.
So how do we work toward our goals without becoming obsessed with the future and with end results? These are questions which have challenged philosophers since the beginning of time, and I certainly don't have all the answers. I can't promise my solutions are the best or only solutions, but I can say I've found they work when I can remain consistent in them.
My solution starts with the knowledge that the future isn't guaranteed, only the present is guaranteed. Since I know this to be true, I am thus able to determine that ideals which place the future ahead of the present, such as "the end justifies the means," are completely backwards.
What I believe is: The means justify the end.
In other words, if you do your best, live your life with as much honor and integrity as you possibly can, treat others as well as you can, and still fail in the end -- then that's okay. You have done what you were put here to do. The "end results" are out of your control, and in essence, none of your business.
If you value doing things right above results, you will generally still be a great achiever, but you will not do so at the expense of other people. If it can't be done right, if it can't be won fair and square, then forget it; you don't need it. Life has something better for you, you just haven't recognized it yet.
And there's another factor which tells us why we must value right action above results, which is: Doing good things does not guarantee good results. An obvious example would be a fireman who charges into a burning building to save a child, but loses his own life in the process.
If we primarily focus on end results, all too frequently we will fail to take the risks which define a good life (most of the time these are emotional risks as opposed to physical). We must thus take right action for its own sake, not for the end result, or we have no guiding principle and will quickly become lost in situational ethics.
Despite earlier mention of failure, I've found this approach usually leads to less mistakes and improved performance -- partially because we're not wasting energy trying to control something imaginary which will never exist (the future). We prioritize more accurately when we're focused on reality (the present).
And since the dual-focus is on doing the right thing at all times, we have a constant lodestar to guide us whenever there's a choice between two paths. If fate steps in later and unexpectedly rips your life apart and leaves you exposed and naked with nowhere to turn, at the end of it all, you will actually still have everything you started with -- the only thing that's truly yours in this world: your own self-respect. It will survive because you'll have very few regrets regarding your own actions. To the contrary, you will find your past to be a source of strength.
Self-respect brings us to another concept which I believe modern pop philosophy has completely backwards: "We must first love ourselves before we can love others." This has become such common "wisdom" as to be cliche, and yet I cringe every time I hear it. As I see it, it's a non-sequitur. I don't know about you, but I love and respect myself the most when I'm a good person; and to me, that means being a loving person. When I catch myself behaving selfishly, it often costs me a bit of self-respect. So that tells me I cannot love myself "first" -- in fact, putting myself first is the very thing that can prevent me from loving myself.
I think the problem comes with our understanding of love; and I believe we over-complicate this issue because we have no separate terminology for emotional love vs. principled love. As I see it: love is about doing what's best for the other person, plain and simple. Sometimes this takes the form of romance, sometimes this take the form of empathy, sometimes it takes the form of discipline, or "tough love," etc.. Love is adaptable. The common thread lies not in a specific action, but in the fact that love always thinks of the other's needs first and of its own desires second.
So when it comes to "putting ourselves first," I think love is the wrong ideal for that concept. Where I partially agree is this: If we're not feeding our inner selves properly and on the right things, then we won't have the strength to truly love other people. Ultimately though, I believe these concepts are inseparably intertwined, so would change the "love yourself first" concept to, perhaps:
"Nourishing ourselves allows us to love and nourish others, while loving others allows us to love and nourish ourselves."
It's a positive feedback loop; each step strengthens, and at the same time completes, the other. Simply advocating we "love ourselves before we love others" is to advocate the impossible. To draw analogy from the physical world: there is no such thing as an "inside" without an "outside," and there's no such thing as an outside without an inside. These components cannot even exist individually; they can only exist and function as a whole.
Anyway... as I see it, at the end of it all, what more can we really hope for but a loving life lived well and with honor?
So that's my Christmas story, and a few of my life-long reflections on the experience. My hope is that there's something in there that someone else may find of value, too.
Happy Holidays to all my readers, in whatever form that celebration means to you. I'll return shortly after the start of the New Year (of course: barring the unforeseeable future!) with more charts and market projections. In the meantime, best wishes to everyone for a safe and enjoyable holiday.
And if you're reading this from the next life somehow: Merry Christmas, Mom.