We’re like fire born by firewood. Life goes to ridiculous extremes to make our young embers ignite only to douse us with water or shower us with sand to put us out when we’ve already grown hot enough to become a roaring flame. Then it’s all over as we quietly send our farewell smoke into the traveling wind.
Remember, as a child, your life was measured by what you can do? You could run around the playground without getting tagged and tired unlike your fat playmates who just couldn’t keep up. You could swing like a real monkey at the monkey bars unlike your frail nancy-boy schoolmates. You could play with X-Men action figures unlike your cousin who only played with cheap plastic toy soldiers, which were boring as hell as they’re all painted the same color. You could numb your red lips with ice cream everyday while the dirt-poor street kids only watched with their drooling mouths agape. You could also probably house your Barbie doll in a huge white house and make her flirt with Ken; totally unlike your bestfriend who merely had a stinky hand-me-down ragdoll from her grandma.
Think about it. Back in those days, you could do a lot of things.
Armed with this knowledge that you could do a ton of stuff, you entered school. At school, in that classroom as silent as a bathroom and as uniformly dreary as Sunday church, one thing stuck out: all of you runts in there thought you should rule the place. Those plain, crisply ironed uniforms were the most deceptive of all, for they concealed the fact that some of you were better than others, and a handful were unfairly “gifted” gits. This innocent-looking room would suddenly turn quite violent and stressful as this shared knowledge of egoistic invincibility resulted into fierce competition — manifested by hands shooting up into the sky to catch the attention of the bespectacled, big-bellied arbiter known as the Teacher.
In all subjects, you were always trying to trump someone else. It’s either that or the other guys stomped on you. No field was free for you to conquer. No monkey bars there, nor ice creams or Barbie mansions. Every goddamn place was a battleground: the track and field, the canteen, even the bathrooms. There was always some prize to strive to win, whether graded or not. Even your crushes didn’t come easy and things would get really disgusting when your own cunning seatmates got them first.
In school, you learn that there are things you can do and things you cannot do.
When you go to work, you start to feel something light and breezy in you — you start to feel free. Not bound now by any shackle to perform for your parents and earning your own dough, the feeling of empowerment is unmistakeable. Ironically, just as you have stumbled upon the secret to potentially winning any battle or competition from here on out (money), you also start to realize that it’s kind of futile and a waste of time to even fight. Your 20 plus years of existence are enough to convince yourself that the world is too immense a playground to rule (for somehow, you’ve also become more unrealistically ambitious in your goals).
But unlike in your childhood when you measured your life with what you can do, and unlike in the academe where you gauged your worth by what you can and cannot do, in your professional career, you can only see things that you cannot do.
You cannot get the job you truly want because you lack experience or education. You cannot be promoted because the other guy is just too good and the boss likes his adventure stories more, unlike your dry, forgettable small talk. You cannot own your old schoolmate’s touch-screen mobile phone, laptop, shiny red car and infernal hot girlfriend who would occasionally blow smoke in your face at company night-outs. You cannot enjoy your daily routines inside your cubicle. You cannot summon the courage to just go out there, drink yourself senseless, dance half-naked and get signed rock CDs like other people on facebook with more interesting avatars.
Funny thing is, your pay should make your friends cry in envy but you are the one who sees all things that you cannot for the life of you accomplish.
By this time, the fire in you is fading. Too much water and sand. Can’t combust enough oxygen and fuel. Embers sputtering, sparks dying out. Just a little more now…
You’re 75 years old, thumping a sparkling cane on your way to the news stand or the bakery in the wee hours of the morning. Suddenly, some fiery youngster with orange hair and an earful of piercings zooms past you — inches away from your gnarled skin — riding a roaring motorcycle with blaring hip-hop sounds. You don’t get knocked off your feet. You don’t get a heart attack or any surprise illness. You just slowly turn your head as if you could still follow that zooming bike with your thick, gray eyes. You don’t make a full turnaround. Instead, you just continue thumping that sparkling cane along the street still covered in deep-blue darkness.
You’re old. You just don’t care anymore about what you can or can’t do, what others can or can’t do. You’ve seen too much, heard too much and done enough to behold the inherent and natural absurdity in the word “can.” It’s just a word to you now, nothing else. Besides, the daily paper has more words to tickle your fancy.
The fire finally dies. Ashes fall down beautifully, poetically to the ground. Everything is all over as you silently send your farewell smoke to the travelling wind that will never come back again.