To be great, to leave a mark, to pee on this tree so the other dogs will know you were there first, that in fact, the tree is yours. This is the clarion call. No matter that most kids hate history class, so many of us want to be in that book. So many of us want that our names are stripped of all humanity, that their inked, spiny forms exist separate from our selves in the list of “Men Who Achieved.”

It seems to me a top-down drive. In a few recent conversations, I’ve noticed this characteristic in some close friends and friends of theirs. First comes the aggrandizement, the desire, then the scramble to produce something, anything worthy of that vanity. And it seems to me a frustrating, frustrated process. Inorganic, rooted in a most miserable, most human quality.

“You have plenty of time to be great.”

“Yes, but I’m almost out of time to be young and great.”

Hopefully our next decade will be, as I’ve heard it is, happier. Perhaps we will end the self-torture of comparison. Or we will dissolve into the bottle to kill the pain of failure, like so many non-greats, and like almost as many greats.

In the meantime, we beat ourselves over the head with this vague desire. We lose the trees, the birdsong, the present moment. We thieve ourselves of any joy by holding it to the close light of our neighbor’s. Or even to our interpretation of that light, not the light-in-itself. Our youth yellow and mealy, slipping farther away, spent and exhausted from what we put her through.

I could cry, and I sometimes do, for the waste of it. And I don’t even want to be great, I cry for the peripheral experience of frustration. I want to scream, to grab shoulders and shake as hard as I can. I want to affix blinders on them so they see just their own paths, undistracted by the ghosts of “more, better, sooner.”

Here’s to the future.


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