“There is a distinct time in our lives where we must let things go,” he said while stroking his long white beard. I lifted my head to match his blind gaze. I just wanted to be far away from this conversation. My gear was getting hot standing under the unrelenting sun. My long, black sleeves and combat boots started to make me sweat. Why can’t I leave? I knew everything the old man was saying to me. Advice that I had learned of years ago. But I think I stayed because I wasn’t listening to myself. Things that I needed to keep hearing. Keep wondering about. Keep ready on my tongue. “It is not a life if you don’t live it the way you want. Selfish decisions happen now more than ever. You can’t trust another being to stay close to you unless you are happy of that thought.” I looked away.
“I just have been feeling stifled. It’s a strange kind of hold on me. On one hand I am more than ready to take on the world. On the other, I feel like I have to be with the people that matter most to me.” I sounded insincere. As if I was giving a lame excuse to something that didn’t deserve one. “W-who am I? It’s a question I’ve grappled with my whole life. Who do I ride with? Where do my loyalties lie? What if I fail? How do you recover from burned bridges? What if I choose the wrong thing and start to regret everything? What if trying to be decent, I humiliate myself and become incompetent? These are all thoughts I have. These are all thoughts on how I measure my life. So far, I have failed. Even when I look outside of myself, I still appear to be a sub-par being. I-”
“Before you go on,” the old man interrupted, “I must ask you a question.” Annoyed, I calmly settle my thoughts. “Have you ever done anything with bad intentions?”
I thought about this question. “Such as hit my little brother for taking my books? If so, yes.”
“No, no. I mean for a bigger purpose. Such as lying to make yourself seem more qualified than you actually are or perhaps put someone down to make yourself feel better.”
“With the pure intention to see someone at my feet, no. I haven’t. Or at least, I cringe at the idea. I don’t cheat on exams for that purpose. I didn’t earn the accolades. I don’t even like being called smart or strong because it is subjective.”
“Well then, that means you have some standards.” The old man giggles.
“Hey now, don’t get cocky on me old man. I think about it of course. It doesn’t get me off the hook.” I can feel the whole lower back pool with sweat. Everything about this is unpleasant. I sighed. “I know I’m not a bad person. I know that to be true. But my actions are far from that of a good person. A reliable person. I trusting person. Sometimes I feel like I am half-assing it when I don’t mean to do it.”
“Is that why you are here? To put yourself down like this?” He re-positioned his feet on the rock that he sat on.
“No. No…” I lingered in order to find my next words. “I… I just have a feeling of emptiness that I have been living with for some time now. As if what I am doing isn’t right. Isn’t passionate. Isn’t who I am. Whenever I feel this way, I either quit and walk away or stay miserable until I do the former. Have you ever done something so meaningless to yourself? Have you ever done that for a long time? It’s debilitating. It weakens your mind and body. I fear that I will have nothing left by the time I am thirty.”
The white marbles of his eyes turned to me. “These thoughts you have create fear. They are a longing to start anew because what you have now is nothing you want. Nothing you are known for. If your natural response is to run away, then go do that. Because staying isn’t making you any more happy. It is creating holes in the fabric of the life you are meant to live. Don’t suffer in silence as I think you are doing privately. Go and create a life you want. Remove the anchors that you tied onto your feet and learn how to walk normally. Don’t think that you are taking a coward’s way out. Think of it as a bright, new beginning to a dreary now. If there is a chance you can take to leave, then go do that. You obviously think too much about the consequences of leaving. But you must learn that life will go on without you. It may be worse, but it also may be better. It is the risk you must take. You can’t stay in the same place doing the same things and expect to get any happier or more fulfilled. You must grow out in all directions and explore different ideas, projects and careers. You don’t need my permission or anyone else’s to do the things you want. All the choices you make can make people love or hate you. It is the nature of the people that live in this world. And by accepting that you can’t please everyone, you must please yourself. Like I mentioned before, you must be selfish right now. You are one of the cases that need that advice more than anything. It will wear off in time. A natural shedding of selfish thoughts and feelings will take place until you have to take care of offspring or a dying relative. But that won’t be a for a while now. Go. Go and reach for whatever you can. Feel the right feelings. Explore the right crevices and lands. Write, read and listen to whatever you can. Don’t just learn it, but apply it. And if you don’t like it, go on to the next thing until you are content and glad of how far you’ve come. That is all for now.” He stood up. He took his cane in his hands and started walking away.
“Wait, what is your name old man? Who are you exactly?” I had wondered this even as I almost passed him earlier today. He kept walking so I trailed slowly after him.
“I am without a name to you.” I was puzzled, I didn’t think whether or not to take his answer in a rude way or in a modest way. “For if I told you who I was, you are they type to obsess over a name, am I right?” I had started to speak, but quickly held my tongue. I didn’t know his game. “I shall be nameless to you because I know that causes you anxiety. You will try to name me, but you will never truly know who I am. You will not ask for me because of the embarrassment that calling me “old man” might cause you. That is the obstacle I will create for you. You will not follow me because that would be cheating in your eyes. And if you ever know who I am, I will be long dead. You will not weep for me as we have no emotional connection, but you will think of me until you achieve your life’s purpose after your period of self-discovery. That is all I want to be to you. And you should learn to accept that. I don’t want you to obsess over my name and tell others about me. Think of me and I will think of you. That is who I am to you.” He paused. Hit me on the shoulder with his cane and I stopped following him. “Good luck with life,” he said as he walked away.
I almost forgot to respond. “T-thank you old man. I will think of you.” I bowed my head even though I knew he couldn’t see the gesture. He and his cane made a slow pace southwest. I looked at him, listed my heavy gear and decided to continue my journey east.
He was right. Knowing his name would have been a mistake.
Inspirations for story:
- Long journeys by myself
- Moving to another state
- Being self-reliant, self-disciplined, self-motivating
- Fearful of failure, social suicide, burning bridges
- Leaving people behind while I focus on myself
- My obsession for naming things (Or things having a specific name)
- “Let It Go” song from ‘Frozen.’ (eh, why not?)