LIFE LESSONS

There he goes.
Eighteen years old and really, he doesn’t have a clue. He has such grand dreams and none of them make any kind of sense.
He’s left school and got a job in an office in London. He hates it. The shortcut to the train station takes him through the local churchyard and this morning he has stopped to study the gravestones. Some of them are mossy with age, others are relatively new. They all have one thing in common though; the people under them are all dead.
photograph: Stonepapa
 
This kid – he isn’t even shaving on a regular basis yet – makes some quick calculations in his head. All these folk under the stones had a certain time allotted to them and when you add it up, it really doesn’t amount to much; and some of them, when you do the math, well it doesn’t add up to much at all.
So then and there he makes a decision. He is going to live a life quite different from his parents. He is going to quit his job and go to Morocco with his mate.
photograph: Jerzy Strzelecki
 
He is going to stay there until the money runs out and then he is going to come back and become a best selling writer. He promises himself he is going to love passionately, travel widely, and cram as much into his life as he can before he ends up just another stone in the ground.
Looking at me standing there in the churchyard as a sallow youth I am filled with a kind of poignant regard. I feel kinda sorry for him. There’s so much I would like to tell him, but it’s too late now, and anyway, he wouldn’t have listened. But I am also quite proud of him; for despite all the spectacular screw ups he made, he stuck to his guns. I admire him for that.
Hemingway: the closest I got was naming my pet parrot after him
But this is what I would like to have said to him:
Firstly son, I know that sometimes you ask yourself – Am I good enough? Well, let me reassure you on that one. No, you’re not. You have talent, that’s all. Who hasn’t? Everyone has some kind of talent. But the point is this: it doesn’t matter that you’re not good enough now. You could be one day if you have the balls to persist, and if you are prepared to work at it. I mean really work. And that’s the same for everyone. So quit worrying.
Secondly – you’re absolutely right. We don’t have long down here. Hold on to that thought; in fact, I know that you will. It will stand you in good stead later when you come to make important decisions in your life. Most of all, don’t worry about making mistakes. They are guaranteed. Even if I told you in advance the truly idiot things you are going to do, I know it won’t do any good. But in the end, it’s only the times you did nothing that you’ll regret.
Try to keep your head in the clouds but your feet on the ground. I admit that sounds like a stretch and it is. But just because you like creating stuff, don’t think you can turn your back on the business world, or at least, your business sense. All right, don’t listen then. Yes, I know you’re in a hurry and you’ve got a train to catch, you stubborn bugger. 
my old man
 
Before you go – two more things: I know you won’t learn this until it’s too late , but try and learn to value your old man, will you? I know it seems like he was born on another planet sometimes, but stop focusing on all his faults. Don’t forget he is also brave, tough, loyal and gentle and these are rare qualities. You could learn a few things from him on that score. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Last of all: hold onto your dreams. You’re going to find out soon enough that loving passionately is not as straightforward as you think and that traveling the world is not all palm-fringed sunsets and camel rides. And this dream you have of writing a manuscript, sending it off and becoming instantly rich and famous; well, you’ll learn. But don’t let life’s hard lessons make you bitter or cynical. Toughen up. Wise up. But don’t ever stop dreaming. Some days dreams come true.
photograph: Aaron Escobar
What else should I tell him, do you think? I’m sure you can think of plenty of things I’ve missed. I just scratched the surface really. What would you have liked to have told yourself at eighteen?
Anyway, feel free. He won’t listen, of course. He’ll have to learn the hard way.
I guess that’s why they call them life lessons.

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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