At the age of 30, the then somewhat obscure singer Ricky Martin released an album called A Medio Vivir, which (ironically enough) featured a breakthrough hit called “Maria,” leading to five years of increasing popularity in the Latin music market (including a very excellent album, “Vuelve,”) and then breakthrough success as an in-the-closet heartthrob for the masses. Whatever one can say about his personal life, and a lot of that is bad, he seemed to be in a particularly reflective mood as he approached his thirtieth birthday.
And so am I. There are some birthdays that many people look forward to. Becoming a teenager at 13, driving at 16, becoming a legal adult at 18, being able to legally drink at 21, or being able to rent a car without trouble at 25: these are landmarks that people pay attention to. I have rarely been a celebratory person, but I remember feeling happy when I turned 20, becaue that meant I was no longer a teenager and that hopefully my third decade would be a happier and more joyous time of life than my first two difficult decades. That was not to be, though. Instead, my third decade was just as bad, just as troublesome, just as difficult, and just as unpleasant as my first two decade, neither of which was anything pleasant.
I have long wondered why this is so. I am not a lighthearted person by nature, and though I do greatly enjoy laughter and fun, I have a terribly difficult time making life fun for myself—I rely on the company of others, personal interaction, and the enjoyment of conversations to lift my spirits, being prone to deep and long melancholy moods when left to my own devices. Nor am I a person in general who deals well with loneliness. The only company I have when I am by myself is the company of my own mind, and to be honest that is not often particularly enjoyable company for me. On an objective level, my life has not been very pleasant. Nor have I been particularly successful in achieving my deepest goals. There is no time in my life I think of nostalgically, or that brings me comfort to remember. My life has rather been an almost unceasing and often desperate struggle. After thirty years of mostly solitary struggling, I’m a far less optimistic, and a far less cheerful, person than I once was.
Nor have my thoughts on how to make my life better or more enjoyable been very cheerful for the most part. I know very precisely what I want, but how to achieve what I want is deeply elusive. Peace of mind, the opportunity to daily utilize my own intelligence in an honorable profession (especially something that would involve writing and research and being able to share my thoughts with others), a loving family life of my own (a wife and children), the respect and honor of others, and enough to live on without being constantly troubled by want are my modest, but (in light of my own life experiences) seemingly impossible goals. I am not a particularly materialistic person, nor am I consumed with any great desires for fame. And yet my modest desires are extremely elusive, and I do not know why this should be so.
The third decade of my life was marked by an intensification of long and deep struggles, rather than any sort of peacefulness. It is no surprise that I have been deeply interested in war, not because I am a very warlike person (in reality, I get little pleasure from fighting) but because I am extremely experienced at the guerilla warfare of institutions that are falling apart and showing little protection or loving care for those they are responsible for. Nor is rebuilding or replacing these fallen and troubled instutions—like families or churches or schools or communities—a particularly easy or pleasant task in such an age as this. For very personal and deep reasons I have studied subjects like building, history, and war. That is to say, I have sought to become knowledgeable in those fields where (even without my design) I was so deeply engaged. And yet despite my own efforts to understand the problems around me and to do what I can to help reverse the damage, I have not found either notable success nor personal satisfaction in the grim task of fighting against the chaos and tyranny that loom so threatening around me and that have for so long marred my existence.
I cannot help but thinking, as little comforting as the thought is, that I was formed and made for dark times. It is painful and agonizing to long for what one has been continually denied, but I have the heart of a man and not a heart of stone. It is deeply dangerous in these times to speak truths, far safer to keep silent and keep one’s head down, and yet I am compelled to speak out, both in defense of myself and my own worth and dignity and against the bullies and oppressors of this world, even at grave personal risk. And yet this brings me little comfort either—for as Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 9:16-18: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.” I am no lord, only a steward of that which God has made me accountable for.
And yet it remains to be seen whether the fourth decade of my life will be any more pleasant, any more satisfatory, than the three decades I have spent on this earth so far. Only God knows, and He isn’t telling me. Whatever happens, I will hopefully have the same resources to draw upon as I have managed thus far. For if matters do not significantly improve, it will be hard for me to reach the age of my fathers, and impossible for me to think of it as anything less than a life sentence of misery and frustration should my sands be allowed to continue on as they have gone so far. For, like the patriarch Jacob, my days have been few and evil (Genesis 47:9).