You eat well. Work out regularly. You have work you enjoy. You use all the right creams, lotions, potions. You take periodic breaks. You read all the right books. The list goes on. By any measure you are doing everything right.
Yet you feel old. Angry. Bitter. Useless. Your face is aging every single day and you can see it. You’ve got deep furrows and lines and road maps all over your visage and your body is bent over. Yet you’re barely thirty.
In the constant conversation about youth, beauty, strength and health, we don’t talk enough about the toxic cost of the food we feed ourselves. It’s invisible. No smell. No taste. Yet we might as well be ingesting e. coli all day long. It ages us just as fast as poor habits ranging from smoking to obesity to inactivity to being friendless.
It’s called keeping accounts.
Let me explain with a story.
Some years ago, a good friend was traveling all the time. I hardly saw him, perhaps six times a year. However I was very fond of this person and I took great pride in finding the perfect gift. That year I decided to get him a really, really good briefcase.
That process took three full months of research. It had to be a certain color, the right size for his big Mac computer, have lots of pockets and files. It had to be the finest leather. After endless visits to local leather stores and online, I found one. It set me back close to $500. I could hardly afford it, but after all, this was for my friend.
He loved it. At first.
Fast forward to 2018. My friend had done some traveling. He left the state and ended up living with his brother for a while. As part payment for the time at his brother’s house,
hje gave that briefcase to his brother.
THAT briefcase. The one that cost me a fortune. Took me three months to find. Hard damned dedicated work. Hours online. Driving to store after store. If I took into account my time and gas, that briefcase was a lot more expensive than $500.
I thought about this the other night. That part of me that resides in my ugliest nature, that gets mad about petty things, rose up and got pissed off.
What an insult. What a goddamned jerk. ASSHOLE. Oh boy did that conversation get underway. Until I pulled the plug on it.
Here’s how this works:
Let’s say I carry that around with me. It becomes an account. After a while, all I see when I look at my friend is that stupid briefcase. I stay angry until I get bitter. That becomes the toxic substance that I ingest day in and day out. Anger. Resentment. Unchecked, the account becomes a self-justifying event. It feeds itself. Gets bigger.
People get murdered over such things. A slight. Being cut off in traffic. Lost custody of the kids. A relationship failure. Rejection from a girlfriend (men in Third World countries throw acid on the faces of women who say no https://www.dw.com/en/why-acid-attacks-are-on-the-rise-in-india/a-19313750).
The briefcase is just one account. Most of us carry around hundreds, if not thousands of them. How we’re owed this or that. A friend didn’t pay back a loan. Another dinged our car door. Someone slighted us. I deserve better.
Nobody understands how important, lovely, wise, gorgeous, intelligent I am. People don’t respect my wisdom. My skills. My clear superiority over my fellow man.
Once I get going, I can stack that side of the ledger until it’s as high as the Sears Tower. Let me count the ways.
Pretty soon, my accounts are so numerous that they inform how I see, interact with and measure the entire world and everyone in it.
It’s a cause for constant unending anger. Bitterness. A desire to take my revenge against a world that doesn’t value me the way I think I deserve to be valued.
We are seeing this played out on the political stage right now, writ large.
Let’s talk about that briefcase.
Once I gave my friend that briefcase it was his to do with as he needed. Ultimately, it served him better to give it to his brother. That was his business, not mine. Not only that, he also appreciated the briefcase so much that perhaps he wanted his brother to have it as a gift. Why not?
A close friend of mine has on various occasions lent money that she didn’t have to lend to a woman who refused to pay her back. After a while, all I heard about was this woman and the loan. The woman and the loan. When she thought about, spoke to or saw this woman, all she saw was the loan. The flawed human being who had failed to pay back the loan, that person who had ceased to exist.
She was now THE LOAN.
This account overwhelmed my friend. Pretty soon it was all she could think about. It was eating her alive and putting wrinkles on her lovely face.
One day I pointed out the obvious (because we are very close I can do this): “YOU chose to lend the money to someone you knew wouldn’t pay it back. YOU chose. Now you’re blaming her for doing what you knew she would do, and expecting her to do or be something different. You’re just angry at yourself.”
To her credit, she laughed. That was the end of it.
Nothing ages us so fast as the vast weight of unending accounts. What we think we’re owed. How badly we believe we’ve been treated.
I see people in their twenties, their twenties, burdened and aged by such bitterness. They become twisted, stunted, like high altitude trees whipped by endless winds.
When I was in Africa in 2013, after climbing Kilimanjaro, I went on a horseback ride. One day I thought some money had gone missing from my tent, and I accused the staff of taking it. I was dead wrong. I stood up at breakfast the next morning and publicly apologized. I was mortified, as I well should have been. I had insulted my hosts and the crew. The apology was accepted, but I wasn’t done.
After breakfast, I sought out the head of the African crew, an ancient, dignified, grizzled man who stood solemnly in front of me as I stammered out my heartfelt apologies. Kindly, slowly and with great ceremony, he took both my hands in his, and with his coal black eyes sparkling, he said simply,
I still wear that man’s beaded necklace, which he graciously allowed me to purchase from him. It was a good trade.
When we live lives encrusted with the anger of our accounts, we aren’t free. We’re in prison of our own making. The longer we carry, and continue to build, the continent of our accounts, the faster they age us. No amount of kale or colonics will clear this out of your system.
Be free. Nobody owes us anything.