Life moves in cycles all around us. Last month we celebrated your sister’s second birthday but we also lost a member of our household that had been with us since before you were born—Freddy Mercury III, our betta fish. While the loss of a fish isn’t really something that people generally get all worked up about, it was your first experience with the death of someone or something close to your everyday experience. Freddy was an old fish, at four years old he was damn near ancient, and had always been a fixture in your life…something you hadn’t though too much about. For sure you knew that there was a fish, and that he got fed on alternate days, and that was about it.
On the day that the proofs of the Eat Your Serial library arrived at our house—the day before Thanksgiving as it turns out—I was very excited, and a little high on my achievement of seeing my own novel in print. In the course of the evening, however, I noticed that poor ol’ Freddy had shuffled off of the mortal coil in search of bluer waters. When we told you about Freddy, you seemed unphased, as expected. The gravity and life and death had, until that moment, been weightless.
We took his bowl down, and invited you to his “burial at sea” in the bathroom. We saluted him and he rode the wave into the afterlife. We thought you had rather nominally skirted the issue in your mind, but we also knew that we needed to get a new fish—if for no other reason than the fact that caring for a fish had become part of my daily routines, but more so as an acknowledgement that life goes on.
We had to wait a few days however, before we could pick up the fish from the store. Thanksgiving being in the way was one reason, and the entire family being ill was the other. On Friday, the events of Wednesday had cropped up as questions and memories and you started to ask about Freddy’s empty bowl. “Where’s the fish?” “Daddy are you going to flush my fish down the toilet again?” “Where’s Freddy?” We told you that Freddy had died, and in a heart wrenching moment you responded by saying “But I loved him” and then moved on to Power Rangers.
The house illness waxed and waned. By Sunday, however, we were able to go get haircuts—and Pa Kenny met us there—and pick up a new fish. Long live Freddy Mercury IV.
Freddy IV died in a matter two days. You were less affected by this death. You mother brought Freddy IV back to the pet store for a fish autopsy and we got Freddy V, who at this time, seems to be alive and fine. Frisky and feisty even. You occasionally go and watch him swim around in his little transparent world. Long Live Freddy V.
The point is however, that we are all transient on this mortal coil, and it’s important that we not forget nor that we dwell on that limitation. It is important that we live our lives with purpose, to have and set, and smash goals. Once you’ve met all the goals you could possibly imagine, then you must find your dreams and punch them in the face. Conquer everything and leave a positive mark on the world in a way that only you could. Achieve everything you can with a style and grace that cannot be duplicated—and most importantly, do it with class. Many folks will try and tell you not to step on people on your way up, and for the most part (as I am currently on my way up with nowhere else to go) I can tell you that this is important, however that doesn’t mean you need to let people walk over you either.
As you are well aware, I was once working in a situation where I was being bullied by a school administration that worked by fear and couldn’t lead people with positivity if their lives depended on it. I vowed when I left there (and recovered from being bullied and found my stride again) that I would never be treated unjustly in my professional setting again. I learned through awful leadership what I had experienced of good leadership and was able to forge my own philosophy of what leadership looks like. Good leaders know that they serve their subordinates, not the other way around. Slowly, I’ve begun to make a path for myself in leadership through advocacy and activism at my new school and in my Union, but also through my writing. In fact, one might argue that being an educator is a leadership role by design—but I find that many people of my profession are having the spirit beaten from them by powerful, well-funded, and intellectually poisonous agendas. Awful people like the ones I’ve described will leave a scar on the Earth, not a mark, and while there may be little boys lamenting “but I loved them” after their funerals, those people are likely to be few and far between…and close relations for sure.
Uncle Nissan is fond of saying “it’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice” and to a limit he is absolutely right…but I prefer “it’s just to have a cause but your cause should be just” meaning that everything in your life should have purpose and nothing should be extra. Papa G can be found quoting Bruce Lee in saying that one should “cut away what is worthless”, if something doesn’t work or is extraneous it should go. Causes that are unjust, actions that are meaningless have a time and place—but never among men of purpose and meaning. When you search your soul to find that which will give your life purpose, remember that money cannot make you happy only purpose. Some people find it in their professions, some find it in their families, others find it in a good book. Wherever it is that you search for meaning, make sure it feels right—following your conscience as a compass will allow you to live a life without regrets, where mistakes are only a reminder that you have more to learn and grow. This is how I try to live.
I have no fear that when I am 50 and you are 25 that you’ll be struggling with this as all men (and women, Hi Ayla!) grapple with this all their lives. Those of us who manage to find our bearings, live our dreams, and dream of a better world will undoubtedly leave it a place worth living—perhaps not as well as a simple fish, but enough for men to dare to dream and concede to attempt. We don’t have to be great men to be good men–it’s my mission to make sure that you are a good person first, and to make sure that you don’t lose goodness as you aspire to greatness. And I know you will.
I can’t wait to watch it happen before my eyes.
PS- You should see the awesome bicycle that Papa Joe got for you, just because. As you and Ayla grow it is a joy to watch your childhoods filled with such love and fullness that the closeness of family brings. I never stopped to notice it myself, until it hit me all at once. While you and your sister are just coming to grips with the fact that there is a world, I am glad that your worlds are warm and encouraging. I think you guys are gonna be just fine.