Monday, April 19, 2010


I'm going to warn you now, that this will be a long post, consisting of things that I think will mostly only be interesting to me. Today I turn 33 years old, while it is no great event, there was a time when I dreaded what my life might be like at this age. I have always been interested in philosophy, science and religion from the time I was very young, and heading into my twentieth birthday I had developed what I thought was a consistent belief structure that was for all intents and purposes like the Deism that was popular in the mid eighteenth century. I was never a bible thumper, but I did have a very deep belief in God and in those years it had increasingly played a large role in my life.

Then the cracks started to appear, and never shy of asking more questions and looking at things more objectively, it became increasingly evident that any religious trappings I still held in my beliefs could no longer be reasonably argued for, and thus I became an agnostic. It was a shift that at the time seemed really dramatic to me. The biggest change was I really just couldn't see what purpose was in life if there was not a grand scheme, and for some reason it occurred to me that because of this my life would be boring and ordinary. I remember walking across a field running through the words to the Smashing Pumpkins' song 33, and thinking that the everyday lyrics to that song would be my boring life when I turned 33.

speak to me in a language i can hear
humor me before i have to go
deep in thought I forgive everyone
as the cluttered streets greet me once again
i know i can't be late, suppers waiting on the table
tomorrows just an excuse away
so i pull my collar up and face the cold, on my own

the earth laughs beneath my heavy feet
at the blasphemy in my old jangly walk
steeple guide me to my heart and home
the sun is out and up and down again

i know i'll make it, love can last forever
graceful swans of never topple to the earth
and you can make it last, forever you
you can make it last, forever you

and for a moment i lose myself
wrapped up in the pleasures of the world
i've journeyed here and there and back again
but in the same old haunts i still find my friends
mysteries not ready to reveal
sympathies i'm ready to return

i'll make the effort, love can last forever
graceful swans of never topple to the earth
tomorrow's just an excuse
and you can make it last, forever you
 you can make it last forever you

My focus was on the ordinary and the lyrics at the end were in sharp contrast to what now seemed very evident to me, nothing can last forever. The Christ imagery seemed vacant to me, and I'm not sure to this day, but I believe the lyrics to this song are about the last days of Christ, who died when he was 33. Regardless, that moment and this song have stuck with me ever since, reminding me of what a dumb ass I was.

Everyone assumes they are special. What I was worried about back then, to be really honest, was that if there was no divine planning than my role in life might be meaningless. I was too blind at the time to see the flip side, no one else is special either, you make of your life what you will. It took me a while to move on and actually see this, but slowly and surely I've come around.

Ever since I was an adolescent I've been fascinated by the story of Alexander the Great of Macedon. The prince of a king who brought Greece under Macedonian rule, tutored by none less than Aristotle and went on to conquer the known world taking on the largest and richest empire the world had ever seen with what at the time was considered a backwater part of the world. I had always found the story inspiring, and in now wondering what made one great in the absence of divine mandate, it seemed natural for me to start with Alexander. It becomes clear quickly when reading about Alexander that it wasn't war in itself that made him great, it was persistence and fearlessness. He had many faults, and who knows how accurate the things that come down to us are, but what is clear is that he wasn't afraid of putting everything out there. He Marched From Greece to Babylon, on to Persopolis, and continued through Bactria and into the Indus valley. Think about that for a minute, he marched a huge army all the way from Greece to India, and had the logistical capacity to supply and fund it even when he was hunkered down in Bactria (todays Stans) for a couple years. He stopped only when he could no longer convince his men to go any further, and died shortly after his return to Babylon. He was 32.

To say that you have outlived Alexander when you reach thirty three isn't exactly accurate. You may live longer, but there is more to living than the length of one’s days. You can live to be 99 fully three times longer than Alexander and not live a third of his life. Quality of experience counts for far more than length of years. This is not to say that you have to live a famous life filled with grand events to live a quality life, in fact that may even get in the way. There is a great scene in Steven Pressfield's The Virtues of War written from the point of view of Alexander;

One of my Pages, a bright lad named Agathon, was striding
ahead to clear the lane, when he came upon a troupe of 
gymnosophists taking the sun in the public way. These declined to 
vacate for my passage. An altercation broke out between the boy 
and several vendors, who took up the cudgels on the renunciants' 
behalf. A crowd gathered. By the time I arrived, a full-blown 
incident was in progress. The nut of the quarrel was this: Who was 
more worthy to possess the right-of-way—Alexander or the 
gymnosophists? As I reined-in, Agathon stood in spirited exchange 
with the eldest of the wise men. Indicating me, the lad declared, 
"This man has conquered the world! What have you done?" The 
philosopher replied without an instant's hesitation, "I have 
conquered the need to conquer the world."

This is what I needed to learn back then, and have moved on to. Greatness is not conquering the external, it is conquering the self. It is making yourself master of your life, realizing what you control and focusing on that alone. This in a nut shell is what the book I am writing is about. Now as I turn thirty three, I really feel that I have overcome all the doubt and fear I once had about where I might end up. I do not reach this birthday loathing my lot in life, but instead celebrating it.

While you alone are responsible for making your life what it is, I would also like to note that it is made fuller by the contributions of others. I have a lot of people to thank in my life for where I am today. My parents for giving me a good upbringing, as my childhood was devoid of anything traumatizing or trying, they both always treated me with love, and though I didn't always appreciate it as a child or young adult, I do appreciate it now. My mother always taught me the value of money, frugality, discipline in finances and how to love unconditionally. My father taught me how to be amiable with all people, and though I do not always have his even temper, I can look to his example for improvement. From my Memere I leaned to laugh at myself, and never take myself too seriously (that and how to play many card games!). From my Grandfather, competitiveness and debate in good humor, and from my grandmother how to mix kindness and authority, from both of them I also learned commitment. All my family; aunts, uncles, cousins, step parents, in-laws, even my brother, have all contributed great experiences and lessons to my life.

Blood might be thicker than water, but other people outside my family have contributed so much to my life. My friend Bob has been there with me since middle school, and has been a consistent understanding friend, and a real resource in my life. Chip, Grimmy, Dave and Joel have supplied my life with some of my more fun experiences. My track coaches, cross country coaches and a few teachers for really showing me what I was capable of, and to any people in jobs, scholastics, or athletics who really challenged me. I'm only scratching the surface, there are so many more people that played small parts along the way, people I've met at work, or travelling or as friends and even the works of people I've read but never met.

I have learned the most and am most thankful to my wife, Kim. She is the one to give voice often to the things I only think I want need to do, but she can put it into form. I might make something happen; plan the logistics, do the writing, whatever, but she is the one who makes things real to me. Travel to Europe? Her idea. Around the world? Hers again. Actually go to Nepal? Yeah, her too. Write the book I'm working on? Yup, her suggestion. The things I do that are not her ideas she is always supportive of me. She is brave, can be as determined as any person I've met, and every day I'm thankful that she is in my life.

So, cheers to all the people who contributed to my life, I really am thankful.

And cheers to 33.

Here is the Smashing Pumpkins video for the song 33 for those interested;


  1. hey brian this is dipesh from kathmandu currently living in san francisco. i absolutely enjoy reading your blog as it brings back all those kathmandu memories. i hope you are enjoying insane kathmandu.and ya many many happy returns of the day. have a wonderful 33.

  2. Thanks Dipesh, it's great to see people reading this blog who I've never met. I hope your enjoying San Fran, Kathmandu may be crazy, but it is definitely my kind of crazy. I love it here.
    Thanks again for the well wishes.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I didn't know you're writing a book! I must hear more about this. And that bit about Kim is tooooo cute. You guys ARE mushy after all even though you try to hide it :) I enjoyed this post Brian and glad I got to celebrate at least part of your 33rd bday with you! Gives me some perspective.

    I agree that becoming agnostic about God makes it really hard to understand one's sense of purpose. I dealt with this a lot actually in trying to write my grad school apps- and nearly became depressed :) Only on some days. As a problem solver, it's hard to rationalize one's existence when I am only trying to solve problems created by ourselves. It becomes cyclical, and all I can seem to do is remind myself to enjoy life and move on.


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