Happy Birthday To Me

Lately I've been having my own Bojack Horseman flash fowards, but with fewer drugs. In these visions I am still turning 30, but I'm in a different house, with a different job, and with a different family. Is there something about this age that brought about such fantasies? Your teens are for discovering yourself and your twenties are for creating yourself, so your thirties are for settling down. It's the point of no return. Like I've heard the cry of a thousand alternate-universe versions of myself which could have been, and were suddenly silenced.

In my visions, I've been married to a beautiful woman for around five years and we have at least one kid. Music is still a part of my life, but only as a hobby. Instead, I quietly work a humble 9-5. I stayed with MOD Pizza and actually pursued a path to promotion. After moving to IT, I got a programming job with a start-up in Bellvue. My wife works part-time from home while watching after our child. At first I feel guilty for putting her in the typical housewife position but she enjoys the time and has ideas to start her own Etsy business. Our son is now old enough to have interests of his own. I'm proud when he shows me the first house he built in Minecraft. Unless, of course, our kid is a girl. In that case, I'm proud when she shows me the first house she built in Minecraft, because girls also play games. On Thursday nights I hang with work buddies. On Friday nights I hang with church buddies. Saturday night is "Date Night." Sunday is church. Because I don't work weekends, I can go to church every week, and I give my service to the worship team. My musical abilities have slipped a bit since I no longer regularly practice. Money is tight but my family has everything we need. My wife and I fight over trivial things but otherwise our marriage is smooth sailing. Almost too smooth. I worry that I don't love her as intensely as I used to and wonder if it's my fault, her fault, if this is normal, or if I should have married someone else. Then I feel guilty for not appreciating her, and I start doing more work around the house to make up for it. She doesn't know why and assumes I'm suddenly a more considerate and passionate person. Every evening I say my prayers but I feel God is not as close as He was when I first got married, and I start to suspect He was never close and I was just a happier person.

Now the fantasy gets meta. Unsatisfied with this life, I start dreaming I'm someone else. In this new fantasy, I make drastically different choices. In high school, I stick with my music studies even though it takes me away from my friends. I also neglect to work on my personality or appearance. Until I'm 20, I'm an awkward aspergery weirdo who listens to Sondheim and Yasunori Mitsuda. But I don't worry, because I get into a good music school halfway across the country. It's a godsend, yet I can't ever feel comfortable with the new friends I make - I have left behind everything I ever knew for these people, and I know in four years I will leave them behind, too. From this I learn that all human relationships are a scam and music is the only thing in my life I can trust. When I come back home, I have no one aside from my family. Nevertheless, I'm good at music and work my way into the Seattle theatre scene. Not only that, but I and some friends start a gaming company. Every serious interest of mine has panned out, or is at least a large part of my life. Even so I look in the mirror every morning and cuss out the fat, hairy, balding loser who still can't break out of his shell. At night I curse God for making me pathetic but the next day I do nothing to change myself or improve.

After the fantasies are all over, it's hard to say there's a calling for my life. I'm not sure if I believe anyone's life has a calling. That's not to say life has no purpose - just that life doesn't have a purpose, a singular action that must be taken. The world is not a stage for a play in which I am the protagonist. I am not the chosen one. There is no disaster far beyond the abilities of everyone else and I am the only one who can stop it. I am not George Bailey. If I had never been, whatever hole that would have been left would have quickly been filled. There's no company that suffers for lack of my talents. I could fill that hole, but so could a number of people. There's no woman out there bored with life because she didn't pick me. No children exist who could feel the loss of me as a father. Is it anything short of idolatry to think otherwise? How crazy is it to suggest that God's plans are so dependent on my competence that I could throw them into disarray by going to the wrong college, the wrong career, the wrong house, the wrong marriage? From these very stones God could raise up sons of Abraham.

Pity parties are the only parties I throw nowadays. My fantasies aren't merely alternate lives, they are my longing for the things I believe I've missed out on. There's no way to be happy once these fantasies start. They exist merely to make me dissatisfied with what I have, then leave us with a world which is impossible. The man in the fantasy - the man with the new house, job, wife, whatever - is not me. I can't be who I am now and the man in the fantasy. If I achieved all those things it would never turn out like I imagine, because fantasy worlds have no place for real people. But in this imagined world I have purpose. I've made the right choice. I've become someone that God is pleased with.

Perhaps there is nothing more godly that living a life of servitude. Deep down, I'm not dreaming about a life that makes me happier. My real life is fine. Instead, I'm dreaming I'm a man who makes someone else really happy. It's not just that I got me a wife, but that some woman got her a husband. It's not that I got kids, but that some kids got a dad. My friends would be as blessed with me as I with them. That's what lasts anyway, once the veil is lifted and the curtain is torn. If we meet on that distant shore, I won't be holding a hard drive of all my greatest works. It will be just you and me. I'm convinced that heaven is a place of eternal servitude, not just to God but to each other. There's something divine about it, that generosity can take an ordinary event and turn it into something of joy. When we all use each other for personal gain, we may get what we seek at the cost of bitterness and envy. There are winners and losers. We could serve ourselves well all our lives. But when I give you what you need and you give me what I need, though we are just as rich as before, there is joy. Heaven, then, is a land where we forever sacrifice our lives for others. Oh, how unprepared I am for that place. If that's eternity, there should be no need of a separate hell. God could save us all, and those of us who choose not to serve will find heaven to be hell, for they can never be served by God.

That's why finding our purpose on this earth almost always leads to nihilism. Service is the only thing that will survive death - me how I treated you, and you how you treated me. None of our accolades will matter. The idea of making a mark in the universe is a myth. Everyone who created something to outlast them has discovered in the afterlife that their creations merely overwrote them. We listen to something like Beethoven's 9th symphony and believe we are hearing a piece of him, as is he still lives on. But that's not him. Beethoven was the asshole who drove away everyone who ever loved him, who creeped on women and wrote to them his sexual fantasies, who nearly drove his nephew to suicide. The love we profess for him is love for a mock image of Beethoven, a person we've created from the notes on the page. I'm not sure they listen to the 9th symphony in heaven, especially not if the real man made it there. The man or woman who lives on through their work is not really us, but an amalgam, a creation of future generations who pick and choose who we were.

So many fall into obscurity, and to those who succeed, what then? You will be faked, and thus, forgotten. The real heroes of this earth have chosen to live differently. In fact, you and I don't know them. There are millions, if not billions of them: people who lived quietly and served faithfully. They may not have written great American novels, or made scientific breakthroughs, or led countries, or had great clapbacks on Twitter. Yet they touched lives everywhere they went. Every man was a brother to them and every woman a sister. Every child was like their own son or daughter and every animal cared for like their own pet. When they passed, all they left behind was the mark on the immortal souls of everyone that passed by. Within a hundred years no one was left on earth who could speak a word about them, but on the other side I'm sure there were many happy reunions. How many were waiting expectantly for Beethoven?