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That Which Is Around Us

“I am what is around me.” – Wallace Stevens, Theory

We build the world around us, surrounding ourselves with things and people that reinforce for us that image in our minds. Believe you’re a hiker? Go to the mountains and be one. Sailor? Get a boat or crew in someone else’s. Runner? Get some good running shoes and hit the pavement again and again until it becomes your identity. Writer? Write every day: immerse yourself in the Great Conversation, pull in all that is around you like a warm blanket on a cold night and share it with the world.

I heard about the death of a friendly acquaintance last night. He was larger than life in some ways, but fragile from years of abusing his body. He would drink too much, love too many, drive too fast and talk even faster, but he had a good heart and it showed in how he treated those around him. He lived the work hard, play hard mantra more than anyone I’ve ever met. I learned not to keep up with him drinking, to drive separately when going to meetings, and to keep pace when it came to work. I was just in his town last week but decided not to call him, thinking I didn’t have the time. It turns out I only had that time.

We are what is around us. Jimmy surrounded himself with a lifestyle that killed him young, but was as fully alive as anyone I’ve met. We don’t get to choose everything that happens in our lives, but in our daily habits we slowly build up and reinforce our image of ourselves and what we might become. Ultimately it’s all just a story in our mind, and like any story you can choose to send it in another direction at any time. But you can’t turn a tragic-comedy into an action-adventure or a romance novel easily. Sometimes you’ve got to scrap the entire first draft and start writing a new book.

As a nod to Jimmy, I’ll work to be more alive in the moment, but with a lot less vodka. I’ll work hard in my career and play hard at healthier activities than he chose. Like Jimmy I’ll beam in pride at my kids, but will try to lead by example that the things you surround yourself with in this one precious life matter much more than you might think. Those things either hold you up or press you down, so choose wisely. Thanks for the reminder Jimmy.

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