Normally, I am not the one to give advice to those younger than myself outside of the classroom, but my editor suggested that I give that a go after reading this column in the Guardian, which recognises the fact that life during your late 20’s is hell, but for most, life gets better as you get older.
This is a premise that I can attest to be true, especially now that I just managed to reach 60.
I grew up in America. I was one of the late-blooming baby boomers; my parents were in their 30’s during World War II, and after the war, they came home from this epic battle and began raising children like hundreds of thousands of other war-time survivors did; they reveled in a post-war economy and wrapped their heads around the new cold-war.
But times are very different now, and Nepal isn’t much like America or Europe during the 1950’s… or is it?
I would argue that fundamentally, yes. Nepal is very much like the world was after WWII (except now we have the internet, more fuel efficient vehicles, and perhaps a bit more common sense). Nepal is currently in rebuild mode, much like the rest of the western world was in back during those post-war reconstruction days.
With jobs being scarce, money tight, and the economy unsteady, the need to leave one’s country in search of a better life seemed like a great idea then.
So what does it mean to be a twenty-something Nepali, during a time of post-devastation? What does it mean to be full of hope and possible rejuvenation? Or if not full of any of that, at least full of the youthfulness to soldier on?
I can only imagine.
However, I can relay my own experience during a time when my peers had two choices: the first being to carry on the traditions of our parents, and the second was to break out in a revolutionary way.
I had to decide whether to embrace the hippy-ness of the late 60’s – peace, love and togetherness via hallucinogens – or to follow in my parents footsteps and become a hard-working cog in the wheel.
New York during the 1960s, where the author grew up, Wiki Commons. (Opener) Color Concert, Eduardo Merille/Flickr.
I chose to take both the paths. I first became a campus revolutionary and then giving that up to become a good corporate citizen – but not after first delving into the dark side of addiction and other deviant behaviour.
Unfortunately for me, there really wasn’t a “lighter” side to fall back on, as trying to follow in my parents footsteps was an impossibility, as the trail had grown cold and was now impossible to track.
The world was changing too fast; the lifetime jobs had dried up and the trickle-down economy brought on by the Reagan presidency had destroyed any possibility of having the traditional ‘American Dream’ come true.
Instead, my twenties – and even thirties – was the ‘American Nightmare’, with me trying to fit into a culture I could not really understand (I was always bad at ladder-climbing and I hated the idea of dog-eat-dog).
And the harder I tried to climb up the corporate latter (and acquire a taste for dog meat), the more I found myself falling down and then throwing up. Relationships were disastrous, and marriages even worse.
The constant foraging for better things just left me hollow, to the point where I would rather down a bottle of gin than take another trip to the mall. And all of this while I was expected to just shut up and take it like a ‘man.’
Unfortunately for me, there really wasn’t a ‘lighter’ side to fall back on, as trying to follow in my parents footsteps was an impossibility, as the trail had grown cold and was now impossible to track.
But take it I did, up until the point of having the traditional mid-life crisis, finding religion and then throwing off all things material. Perhaps you’ve heard of Buddhism?
But this was American Buddhism that I found (which is a very distant cousin of what we have here).
My transformation required an enormous investment in motivation (as well as capital) just to get started. But like ancient Buddhism, the western variety will keep you from blowing your brains out, or that of others around you.
In addition to compassion to one’s self and with others, one learns that the pressures around you (family, financial, political or otherwise) are like mountain winds, fiercely gusting along your path, trying to blow you off your own true course.
And with meditation (or perhaps just old age), comes the steadfastness to withstand these gales, even if you barely survive each blow with just the shirt on your back.
For me, my mid-life crisis was the breaking (free) point, when I realised that my true course was not in the continual struggle to become happy, but instead, to help others in that regard. And interestingly enough, that path led me here to Nepal.
By coming to Nepal, I learned how most of the world lived (vs. the Disney version now playing all over the West), and that somehow settled me.
In truth one finds peace, or so they say.
But what course is true for you (I can hear you scream)?
Unfortunately, that’s unanswerable by me, or even by Googling for days on the internet. Yet the question itself may be the most important one you ever ask. And perhaps, by just asking yourself that question each and every day, is in itself, the answer.
Jigs Gaton is a quirky kinda-American migrant, happily living in Dhobighat with family and friends, and who like John Lennon, imagines all the people, sharing all the world, then the world will live as one.