"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." — William Shakespeare
It happens to me every January. I consider my life in retrospect and weigh it against its future. The older I get, the more the weight of the future pressurizes into feelings of doom, and less the yesteryear feelings of hope. And then I consider the life of Lee Harvey Oswald who managed to cement himself as a prominent figure in world history at age twenty-four. I’ll break into my late thirties this year. What the hell have I done with my life?
I’ve made some friends. I’ve volunteered my time and helped some people. I’ve written some things, including a book that some people bought, though I know not everyone read including my father, to whom the book was dedicated. I’ve done some traveling and had some laughs. But I haven’t done anything yet that will cement me in the zeitgeist memory bank or give me a headline on CNN or Breitbart or make me a trending topic when I die.
So every January, as I think about my life, I think about all that I’ve done and all I want to do and all that I will never do: I’ll never sleep with a virgin. I’ll never spend a college semester abroad. But most troubling is that I’ll never die young.
Sure, a man in his thirties is not an old man. And if I were to die in some kind of freak accident or if some wretched illness ripped me from my mortal coil anytime soon, there would be those who would say, “He was too young to die.” “His death was premature.” “He had so much living left to do.” However, if I had been given a time of death for any reason a decade ago, all of my smaller accomplishments would have been amplified in a James Dean kind of way.
And there would be those who would say, “He had so much potential.” “He could have been even greater than the greats.” “The world will be a lesser place now that we’ll never know all David Himmel may have given us.”
I’ve missed the opportunity to die young, and as a result, I’ll have to spend the rest of my life working really, really hard to be successful and to leave a mark. But has my age and experience worn me down? Have I lost my edge and, therefore, ability to seize the opportunity to be great, make an impact, have a voice that even matters? Isn't this all just bullshit ego?
I don’t know. What I do know is that while Younger David worried himself with these thoughts, too, he always figured he’d have plenty of time to bite the bullet with fewer miles on his odometer and manage to slip into greatness and forever relevance.
Thinking like this, my doctors will tell me, is useless distraction. My college mentor would tell me to stop procrastinating, give up drinking and get back to work. My father will tell me, “Nope, I still haven’t finished the book. What’s the point? I know how it ends.” And they all have a point. Because I have other things to do. Dying is not one of them. And being envious of Lee Harvey Oswald, when you really break it down, isn’t the best way to spend your remaining time.
And, I suppose, it’s not such a good idea to be just now, finally getting around to reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. You know, the thirty-year-old writer who baked her head in the oven before seeing her work and influence become, well, influential. Because as I read this book and consider its author, I’m consumed by two thoughts: 1) Plath can write and she’s funny as hell, and, hey, I can do this, too, and 2) For better or worse, I won’t be found young, full of unrealized promise and dead in my apartment with my ass in the air and worrisome brain baked to perfection.
Because even with magnificent talent (it's public opinion if I have any at all) I’ll just never be that great.