Munich, Germany (5 min. read).
What’s your story?
How did you come to be who you are?
Can you point out moments in your life that had a major impact in who you’ve become?
I bet you can.
I’m sure you recall, in detail, experiences that completely shifted your values, encounters that defined your current passions and fears, decisions that brought you new opportunities and goals, all of which directly made of you a different, better human being.
I’m also sure this rollercoaster of events that is your life, with the painful and the pleasant, make all perfect sense in hindsight. Together they form the story line of your life.
There is only one problem. As Rolf Dobelli wrote in The Art of Thinking Clearly:
“It is safe to assume that half of what you remember is wrong.”
Looking back at the events that shaped one’s life is always disturbing. As humans we nourish association and cherish meaning-ful experiences: those of love and tears, of fight and thrive. We are prone to storytelling and the most stirring story we can recognize is that of our own journey.
This meaning we endow our main character with is built years after the experience or encounter has taken place; thus making our narrative susceptible to the filter of present emotions and beliefs.
I’m interested in what gets caught in the filter.
Meeting my old demons.
We all have been through episodes now forgotten. Aspects of your life you somehow erased from memory some time ago. Events not distressing enough to make your heart throb or the hair on your neck bristle. Moments of your existence that had an impact in who you’ve become, not because of what you did but because of what you missed.
I’m talking about the lack of excitement you felt for years at the prospect of uneventful days, the sadness of lonesome evenings at home, the neglected desire to play to be someone who doesn’t take life too seriously.
These unsettling memories and hidden feelings often resurface while coming back to the place you grew up, by looking at photos or hearing stories about the old ‘good’ days. For me they all came in the form of a video, a not so old video I must have recorded around 2010, alone at night, talking to camera.
It was during my junior year in college. I weighed over 230 lb (~105 kg), I had gone through two different (low risk) surgeries, and I wasn’t doing great in college. I was struggling to keep up the pace of my friends who were advancing steadily while I was still stuck with first-year courses after having failed all but two of them during my freshman and sophomore years (back in the time mechanical engineering degrees at my university had a dropout rate of around 70%). Looking at this video and pictures of that time I appeared overwhelmed, stressed and weary.
My soul shudders every time I look back at those pictures.
The point is I don’t remember feeling this way. Of course I remember the hurdle, the fight, the amount of all-nighters I had to pull to get through college. But those feelings, that look that cries for help, all that is gone. I don’t know what I would have answered back then if you’d asked me whether I was happy. Today, I would certainly answer that I was. I had a dreamed life. I was doing what I wanted to do since I was 14 and I knew you have to fight to get what you want — or so I’ve been always told — so I fought.
It was right before college when I started to hang out with my now wife, Sara. She had demons of her own. Gigantic, bloodthirsty, soul-destructive demons is how I remember them. I’ve always thought I tried my best to help brightness take over her life, fighting the darkness with my goofiness and shyness. The truth is that she was probably helping me more than I will ever realize.
And so they come, the invisible angels.
The angels that shaped who I am.
In giving meaning to our lives we fall to the misconception of making us source of our own fate. My fight, my decisions, my happiness, my life. We often don’t give enough credit — if at all — to all those around us that make us who we are.
The reason my old demons are gone is because I had angels by my side who kept them away. They brought smiles, caresses, kindness, and affection without me noticing, without me asking for it, when I needed it most. You also have them even if you don’t see them. We simply take them for granted as we go through our lives merely focus on ourselves.
Back in 2010 my demons were banished by someone who has kept by my side ever since. I like to think that it was in the heat of these battles where the foundations of our relationship was forged. Back to back, riding together this roller coaster of the painful and the pleasant we have become a hell of a team to beat.
Don’t dwell on the past but look around. Your life is somewhat the product of those demons now lost in memory. The way you are, with your fears, passions and beliefs, is the result of experiences you thought forgotten. The journey is made of angels you don’t see and demons you will forget. Thank the former while you can and hold to them, so at the end of your journey, you will be able to declare that you have become a different, better human being.