- Michael Thompson
I walked into the lobby of our hotel and sat down in the first open chair I could find. Then in the angriest voice, my exhausted ass could muster, I turned to my dad and said, “I just missed my son’s first birthday for absolutely nothing.”
I’d flown down to Central America for the fourth time in as many years to attend a court trial regarding a costly mess I’d gotten myself into years earlier. An hour before I was supposed to take the stand, however, my attorney told us that something had come up and the hearing had been postponed. Again.
It’s hard to cool down when being given that news when it’s 105 degrees outside. I tried to take some deep breathes. But no matter how hard I tried to line up my breathing to match the rotation of the wobbly old ceiling fan swirling slowly above my head, my pulse only rose.
The money I had lost on tickets and taking off work….
The memories I had missed watching my son blow out his first candle….
The pounding thought that I’d never see the $250,000 that was stolen from me again….
To my surprise, my dad, who traveled down with me so I didn’t have to go through the stress of taking another bullet-proof truck alone to and from the courthouse, seemed unphased by my attorney’s news.
Moments later, my hunch that he had something else on his mind was confirmed.
He stood up from his chair, put his arm on my shoulder, and said something that turned my madness into extreme sadness: “I wasn’t going to come down to be with you. But your mom wanted me to come down to tell you in person that she’s sick.”
Over the new few days, under the recommendation of my attorney to stay close to our hotel, my dad and I sat together in our room.
A lot of the time we shared together was spent in deafening silence or with us filling each other in on what’s been going on in our lives since I moved to Spain from the US a few years prior.
But with updates coming in from my mom about the potential severity of her diagnosis, it was hard to avoid the topic of life and the reality that one day for all us it will indeed end.
I wish I had recorded my dad’s thoughts on the subject as the haze in the room hung heavy. But one thing he said shook me so hard that today it’s one of the few things my battered memory has been able to keep clear—
“The saddest part about getting older for me is seeing how intellectually dead some of my friends have chosen to become.”
To this day, with the exception of hearing my mom had cancer or learning about the loss of a loved one, I don’t think I’ve ever been more impacted by a string of words.
Despite rarely seeing eye to eye on things, sitting on the edge of our beds together in that stuffy hotel room, I’d never felt closer to my dad.
In one sentence, I understood why he had gotten so annoyed with me for choosing the television over opening the front door.
In one sentence, I understood why he had gotten so frustrated with me for choosing to give more power to the opinions of others instead of listening to myself.
In one sentence, I understood why he had gotten so angry with me for choosing to allow my past mistakes to paralyze me from moving forward.
Life isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. Nor is it about being the strongest or the fastest.
Life is about choosing to be the type of person who approaches each and every day eager to learn a new something and meet a new someone.
It’s about being the type of person who chooses to stay intellectually alive.
People don’t care about how successful you are nearly as much as you think they may. They certainly don’t care about how successful you were.
They only care about how curious you are.
They want to be around people who have the guts to scratch their own itch and treats learning about the world and the people in it as their primary responsibility.
My mom — who is now close to two years of being cancer-free — said it best,
“Following your curiosity will keep you interesting. It will keep you interested. No matter your age, it will keep you young.”
Pick up a book. Pick up the phone. Pick up a new hobby. Throw yourself into the work and the people you love.
We can’t control much of what happens in life. But we can control whether or not we make the decision each and every day to learn about the world and the people in it.
The last thing you’ll want when you get older is to look back on your life and realize you spent half of it intellectually dead.