I sat at the edge of the Han River in Gangnam, South Korea, asking myself, is there something I could have done? The Winter had frozen some parts of the river; if one stepped on some areas, they would fall right through the ice. Nothing could reflect the state of my mind better than that.
I was worried since everything had changed. The plans we had together, the trips, and the adventures we had were all a painful reminder that good things don’t last. We often hold on even when it’s painful to keep doing so.
He was my best friend growing up. We went to poetry mic nights, tried to rap, chased girls, and he often slept over at my family’s house when he didn’t feel like going home. I did the same, and each family saw the other as a part of the family.
I walked and walked, thinking.
The years and choices had divided us, though. I went to college, and he stayed behind. I traveled to work abroad, and he stayed behind. We talked occasionally, but even those phone calls and messages came to a crawl. Then one day, I got a message from his brother. “He is not well, no one can make sense of what he is saying; and sometimes, his voice breaking, he doesn’t even remember me”.
I walked out of my apartment after the conversation. I walked and walked, thinking. In all the time we spent together as kids in middle school, high school, and a part of our adult lives, we had but respect and love for one another. Even with so much time apart, that had not changed.
I was angry that I had not gone home to see him and that he, too, had not come to visit me. But then I remembered what Marcus Aurelius said,
“Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him, for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 2.1
Yet, I felt like one of those two hands, one of those two feet and one of those eyelids, had been removed. People often say, out of sight, out of mind. But we were more like brothers, and no matter how far we were, at least, I felt like our hearts remained connected.
The bond we shared as brothers in Friendship
So how could I fault him or myself? If I stayed behind and did as he and other friends did, would it have made a difference in his state of mind to stay sane? Was I supposed to not stay true to myself in order to preserve our friendship? Could the bond we shared as brothers in friendship have kept his mind together?
These are the thoughts that ran through my mind. Perhaps in arrogance because no one can bend the laws of Nature, predict the future, or stop the inevitable.
My desire to travel, to see the world, to experience different cultures, and to grow left so many behind, both family and friends. Should I have sacrificed my personal growth then? If so, at what cost? I did not know what to make of all my thoughts and questions. I remembered what Epictetus said,
“Above all, keep a close watch on this— that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends . . . if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”Epictetus, the Discourses, Chapter 2
According to Epictetus, we cannot have it both ways. It’s either us and our growth or staying the same and keeping those around you happy.
Nature’s old Way
A gush of wind slapped my face as I stared across the frozen river looking back at my life. Reaching into my jacket pocket, I felt the small notebook that I often kept in my jacket. Seeing the pen between its pages, I felt like the only way to relieve some of the ice in my heart was to write down my thoughts. Instead, this poem came to mind:
On the frozen river
Nature’s old ways remain forever new,
cracked lips, cracked ice,
white and gold in my view.
Save me from the beams of light
that forces me to give up the fight
and accept the rudeness of Winter.
Her imposing presence on my flesh and mind,
I choose not to falter.
I sit aside the frozen river,
as the snow too fights for its life.
The Almighty gold and bringer of light –
shows no mercy.
The boat anchors too have been still for weeks,
still, like the face of the river.
Still, like the frozen heart within me –
whose beat echoes faintly seeking the
warmth of a cracked past –
ravished by Nature’s old ways.
Yet, in that past I realize the beauty of Winter,
that it is at its end, although no end in sight,
only a continuation
of Nature’s old ways.
About the Author:
Tate is a blogger, Author and Founder of Inzagy Technologies LLC – a digital marketing firm that helps businesses scale and grow faster. His blog Tatejourney.com is about his travels, passive income ideas, and blogging. His latest book, Money Blog Formula is now on Amazon.