Tuesday, May 8th will be my birthday. I will be 25 years old.
The story about my conflicted perspective on my own birthday is the subject for another day (although I will say that it’s been 2 years since my emotional breakdown, and I’m doing fine). It’s hard to believe that I will be 25 so soon. I remember when I was in high school and saw the young adults around me. I thought about how awesome it would be to become a young adult and have a more complete sense of direction, to be better at life. Now that I’ve reached that age, I realized that it’s not as effortless as it might have seemed. My room is still a mess, I have so many emails to go through, I am unemployed, and I’m still trying to figure out a direction in my life.
But I have grown. Even in this past year, I’ve become more confident and self-assured. I’ve embraced myself for who I am made to be in a deeper way. Even if I may not know fully what I want to do in life, I know more what is important to me (community, connection, understanding).
I wonder what I’ll be like when I’m fifty.
I would rather be able to lift my child up into the air in my middle age than have recurring shoulder injuries from too much bench pressing.
I would rather have a strong back to lift heavy boxes when I’m moving than have bulging biceps that serve little useful purpose.
I would rather have a sharp mind in my retirement than suffer the ill effects of concussions while playing heavy contact sports now.
I would rather foster strong relationships with friends and family than spends hours training to run marathons.
I would rather be able to walk in the park with my wife in the twilight of our years than be stricken with knee pains from too much leg training.
I would rather be able to enjoy good sleep than wake up at an ungodly hour to train endlessly.
I would rather enjoy the richness and complexity of food than be obsessive over nutrient profiles, caloric intake, and other archane components of gastronomy.
I mean no disrespect to weightlifters, marathon runners, or any other athletes, professional or amateur. However, in a society that measures fitness according to incredibly stringent standards and bills the incredible physique of elite athletes as the rule rather than the exception, a degree of sanity is important.
I would rather live life healthy, well, and satisfied, than be constantly driven by a gnawing urge to reach some mass-marketed potential form.
Last week my family went to a Korean cultural show in Irvine. Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, traditional Korean drumming, hip hop dance. Last Sunday I saw a friend perform in a concert for his a cappella group.
In watching these performances, I started to wonder – Why do we have shows like this? All of the dancers, artists, and musicians in these shows were students. What practical value do these organizations provide? Would their time be better spent studying to boost their GPA? Learning coding languages to build useful job skills? Doing good works for the betterment of others? What good is it?
I started to think about all the benefits of involvement in performance arts (community development, fostering of creativity, strengthening of discipline), but realized that these approach the question from the same pragmatist angle. The real question that came to mind was:
What does it matter?
Yes, the time that my friend puts into practicing his songs could be spent on serving the poor. Yes, the hours that Sammy the dancer invests into choreography could be focused on studying. Other activities may confer a greater utility.
But life is more complex than a pragmatic perspective. All of these things are a celebration of life. We dance because we can. We sing because we can. There’s nothing practical about joy, exuberance, or happiness, but those are the things that people crave.
Practical works satisfy the body. Celebration satisfies the soul.