What my 60-year-old self wrote to my 30-year-old self

Dear Deren,

You made it to sixty and inshallah you can retire. Now you can do what you should have done from the get-go, traveled and wrote. With the pace of life slowing down, these things will help pass the time while you and Trinh settle into a ripe and smelly old age. Getting here wasn’t easy, but you made the best of what had to happen.

My self portrait at 60

Your mother passed away when you were in your forties. You finally got to clear out her house, but it wasn’t rewarding, you weren’t liberating her from her struggles. You found yourself sifting through generations of sentiment and you laughed at funny knick knacks you discovered going through the rooms. You felt that spark of joy that she must have felt whenever she would uncover a relic from a time when she was younger, stronger, and dare I say more stubborn. The things that found you in those rooms, sent you on trips down memory lanes. Trips your now stuffy legs would whine to complete, but their younger self would have thought nothing of.

You buried your mom’s ashes at the old rock near Margret’s cabin so that she could watch the snowfall on the one place she loved. You buried your father’s ashes alongside another rock at the cabin. This way you could visit them both without having to drive across the New Jersey Turnpike and scout out parking in Queens – as graves they got along nicely. On the mourning of selling her and your childhood home, you took one last look over the empty rooms and felt heavy. Now, muted by death you wish you had listened more. 

When your father passed away you were confused. You wanted to be closer to him, but even as he sweetened with age you let the busy humming of your over-caffeinated office-oriented mind drowned out what you wanted. You spent too long with other people’s tasks to reach out for what you wanted.

Your children became a source of joy for you. They took the humor, fatalism, and honesty that you marinated them in and they flavored your life with it. You were an indulgent and weak father, but much like your own Dad, you were the one your kids always introduced their other halves to first. 

Speaking of other halves, together you and Trinh raised a solid extension of your families. In the midst of your now pointless careerism, you were both impatient as each of you slipped into doubts and hide in escapes. Distracted by the noise of your middle ages, you both could have been kinder. Although she was not alone in her temptations, you both still sing and dance and laugh, because regardless of all that adultishness you both force-fed yourselves, childish joy is at the core of your “us”. You were blessed to have Trinh by your side. 

You and Trinh moved to an American metropolis, although at times you felt stuck in a treeless monoculture, your light sensitive eyes were appreciative of the American ways and means that you had taken for granted before leaving. By marrying Trinh, you kept the energy that drew you to life in Asia. Your young family went for holidays in Vietnam. Living away from home wasn’t easy for Trinh. At the intersection of patience and que sera sera, you drove Trinh to the airport when she returned to Vietnam to be with her parents in their twilight. Her life in America was an enduring testament to her faith in you. With your children now older and your parents watching Netflix in heaven, you plan, and plans are just prayers to Father Time, that you’ll both spend your golden years as trans-pacific snowbirds.

What came of your career is not far from what you could see on the road ahead. You traded your passion for skills, you deferred your incomplete ideas for the solid notions of others, and you justified all those lost hours as progress, stability, and gradualism. As you crested over the hill, you mused over the Cheshire Cat’s haunting words, “If you don’t know where you are going you can go anywhere”.

You let your health slip. It started with the lovable Americanism of a dad-bod, but ended with awkward complexities in your stomach and heart. You were more eager to return an email rather than to take the stairs.

You matter only in the way that you inspired people to move, change, rethink the road they were on.

This is the road that you took, but you enjoyed it because you sing while walking.

It’s a hell of a ride, 

Deren

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