A year after my high school graduation, there was a rumor that I had died in a tragic accident. It forced me to re-evaluate my life in more ways than one.
I was one year removed from graduating high school. I moved down to California to attend college and pursue my dreams of becoming a world class filmmaker. They say the first year is always hard. For me, it was the hardest. I spent most of my days running away from obligations, hiding in my room binge watching sitcoms, and trying to recover from the death of my father.
I don’t know if you’ve ever lost someone close to you, but there’s no feeling like it in the world. Every waking moment feels distorted and unreal. It was numbing as it was lonely. I blamed myself for the longest time. I was there when he was in the hospital, but I didn’t stay the entire time. He was sick, but I was told he was going to get better. I was excited for him to see how well I was going to do for myself post-high school, so I wanted to get back to laying that foundation. When it happened, I couldn’t help but blame myself. I could have been there, but I chose not to.
I could have saved him.
The first year in California, I spent many late nights working in a dark, stuffy film projection room at my local movie theater. I didn’t choose to work there because I needed the money (it was shit pay). I worked there so that I could pass the time. Find some semblance of purpose again. The monotony of cleaning projectors, running films, and watching people enjoy the experience of cinema was oddly comforting.
It was the only place that felt real in a long time.
I got to a point in my life where I was starting to accept that maybe I wasn’t going to achieve my lofty goals and maybe I should start accepting the reality of finding something “practical” to do with my life.
That feeling didn’t last very long.
One night at work, seemingly out of nowhere, I received a flurry of texts and calls from several old friends that I haven’t heard from in a while.
“Ben! Are you okay?!”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
“We heard you were in an accident! I thought you were dead!”
Those words of panic sent a shocking jolt to my nervous system. Here I was mindlessly sleepwalking through what was suppose to be the defining years of my young adult life trying to figure out how to deal with my unresolved emotional challenges…and all it took for me to snap out of my hazy funk was some insane rumor about my untimely demise floating around my hometown. I was confused at first, angry even, that someone would spread something so reckless, but it was sort of a blessing in disguise to tell you the truth. It made me re-think my current trajectory and question, “What if I did die right now?”
“Have I accomplished all that I set out to do?”
“Was I a good person?”
“Will anyone miss me?”
“What would have Dad thought?”
I didn’t sleep that night. Whether it was the neuroses or the need to console my friends by assuring them that I was truly fine, all of the thoughts and feelings running through my mind was overwhelming. However, I was touched to know that there were friends who cared enough to call. I didn’t want to let them down anymore. I took a long hard look at myself. I was alive, sure. My eyes blinked, my heart beats, and I still bled every time I got a cut or a gash. I was alive by definition, but I had forgotten how to live.
This year, I turned 28. I have never been more grateful to be alive and living the life that I have long envisioned for myself. Looking back at that time, and that specific moment, I am thankful for it. Thankful that it took a disturbingly morbid scenario for me to realize that I am worth it. That I am worth the time, the love, and the energy to be invested in. I mourned for my father and I mourned for the downward spiral that I was in, but when my heart became full again, I was ready to finish what I started.
My father would have been heartbroken if he knew that I had given up on my dreams.
All of our lives we have these voices, externally and internally, telling us to wait. Waiting to make enough money to pursue our passions. Waiting to travel to our dream destinations. Waiting for the world to change. It's unfortunate that sometimes our irrational fear of mortality is what continues to push us forward, but we only have a handful of years left on this Earth. Don’t waste it on waiting. If you love somebody, tell them you love them. If you’re good at creating, go create. If you know you’re worth more than the circumstances you were dealt with, then go out there and make yourself whole again.
I don’t have all of the answers, but when I am faced with the question of "when is it the right time to live?"
The answer will forever and always be: today.
"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." - Brandon Lee