My 97 Year Old Self
I discovered a ninety-seven year old version of myself while talking to a good friend about his disastrous romantic relationship. After years of listening to him talk about his girlfriend who didn't trust him, and whom he didn't trust, I finally took a risk and crossed the friendship line and told him I thought he should end the relationship. For good.
I just said it. Flat out. You need to break up. I knew I crossed the line, and I knew it was risky to our friendship, but it didn't do any good anyway. He gave me more reasons about why now was not the right time. I suggested that he was missing out on something beautiful by staying in something so limiting and often demoralizing. Nothing was connecting, he was holding on tight.
Finally, I suggested that he imagine that he was ninety-seven years old. "Even though you're not ninety-seven, just imagine that you are. You've lived a good long life, you know what matters and what doesn't. You know when something is worth fighting for and when you should simply walk away. Now imagine you are advising your own son who is in the same romantic situation as you are right now. Knowing what you know now that you're ninety-seven, what would you tell him to do?"
The phone got quiet. I didn't have to say anything else. He said simply, "I get it." He ended the relationship the next day. I'm happy to say he is very much in love with a new woman, and that relationship is going strong.
The idea of a ninety-seven year old version of me stayed with me. I found that even though I'm far from ninety-seven, I could access that part of myself easily. It's as if it had always been there, just waiting to be utilized.
I realized, I don't have to wait until I'm ninety-seven to use this wisdom. I can pop in whenever I need it. I named my new alter ego, "Poppa J." It sounds better when you give it a bit of a drawl as you say it. "Poppppuh Jaaay." Poppa J knows what to do in almost every situation. He gives me the best advice. Advice that comes from a place where ego does not reside. Advice that has no master. Just a guy who has lived a good long time and knows that sometimes, most times, you should stop fretting and just kiss the pretty girl.
He knows when it's time to quit a job and go for your dream. He reminds you to say, "I love you" over and over and over. He also smiles a wicked grin when he gives you permission to tell that chump at work to get lost. They probably needed to hear it and it just feels good to say it. You don't always have to be nice and agreeable. Sometimes being selfish or standing up for yourself is exactly what the situation calls for. And you should follow it up with a beer for having the guts to go through with it.
This whole notion that we can access the wisdom that lives inside us first came to me a few years ago. I was involved in a fundraising campaign for St. Jude Cancer Hospital. Ali Mills was an eleven year-old cancer survivor. We became fast friends as we worked on the campaign and though she was only eleven, she spoke as if she were...much older...say, ninety-seven.
It was very clear to me that Ali had accessed a deeper truth. One that resides inside all of us, regardless of our experiences in life. The wisdom is there, we just have to trust.
Ali taught me so much. Her writings were insightful, her comments on life penetrating. She also taught me that friendship can happen instantly and can be as strong and powerful as you desire. You don't need years together to have a deep friendship in the same way that years of time spent together does not necessarily mean a strong friendship will result. Sometimes it's just there or it isn't.
Poppa J has shown me that most things are not that difficult to figure out. If you just slow down long enough to ask the question and listen clearly enough to hear the answer, many problems are easily solved. You may not like the answer, but your gut will know it's right.