Instead of age, I have a new way of measuring my time on this earth. Countries visited. In that regard, I turned one with Canada. Started Kindergarten with Australia. Entered double digits with the U.K. Began my teens with South Africa. Reached legal driving age with Greece. Became a voting citizen with Spain. Closed out my teens with the U.A.E. Started my twenties with Turkey. Turned twenty-one with Ecuador. Reached the milestone of a quarter century with Sri Lanka. Survived the musician’s unlucky curse with Lebanon. Rounded out my twenties with ancient Egypt. I’m looking forward to seeing how my thirties will turn out . . .

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Be here now, you can be there later. The future will always replace you so be present while it lasts. I know it’s tough. You can’t always be here. You can’t always be present. We live in a complex world of a billion distractions, all pointing elsewhere. All pointing to the other side, where the grass is supposedly greener, instead of here, instead of now.

The other side is so enticing, such a pleasant escape, but as soon as you get there, there is only another and another and another and another. The other side goes on forever. It’s a never-ending facade; infinity masquerading as finite. The other side sees grass in a million shades of green. Don’t buy into it. Grass is always just grass no matter the color. When tempted by the other side, come back to here and look around. I’m sure you’ll find plenty.

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If life throws you lemons, don’t settle for lemonade. Be creative. Make something fresh, new, and exciting. Something that’s distinctly you. Who cares if it’s weird or different or not liked by everyone else. That’s not the point. The point is to not give two fucks. Because what makes you weird and different and uncool is what makes you beautiful. What makes you shine. The alternative? Conformity, a sure way to live a life of repetitive doldrum.

For the longest time, I’ve felt like a square shape trying to fit into a round hole. But the truth is, I’m not a round shape or a square shape or a triangle shape or any other shape that can be made with a ruler or compass. I’m my own shape. One that’s constantly changing as the world around me changes. I don’t need to fit in anywhere, anywhere can fit into me.

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What I like most about traveling is that it reminds me just how little I know about the world. You can read about something in a book, but experiencing it in the flesh adds a whole new color and dimension.  One that makes you feel both in sync and out of place, lost and found. It’s easy to pretend we have all the answers, but in truth, all we have are a lot of questions. It doesn’t matter if those questions ever get answered or not. It only matters that we keep asking them.

When faced with the infinitude of the cosmos, it’s important to take a moment and pause and appreciate what’s going on around you. To make poetry out of simple things. To discover a song in the daily noise. To find wholeness in broken pieces. To take currency in everything easily overlooked and misplaced that has the potential to make memories out of our days.

There’s a story there. A lesson there. Some tiny insignificant insight that sheds a little more light on the world and opens our eyes to the beauty that sleeps in garbage cans, wades through puddles of muck, and shifts through the unceasing seas of time like frolicking dolphins whose only pleasure is to swim and let the world pay witness.

Something so beautiful that even though it’s not yet fully realized—only on the cusp of revealing itself—it’s something you still feel even after the feeling has gone. And once you have it, it’s yours for the moment, for eternity, to be held, to be appreciated, but most importantly, to be shared. For nothing is truly in our possession though we like to trick ourselves into thinking so. A sunrise. A sunset. A rainbow. A song. A story. A piece of art. A city street. Home. Love. Life. All fleeting things that paradoxically belong to no one and everyone.

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Whoever said live each day like it’s your last got it all wrong. If that was the case, I’d be impulsive, squander all my money, and make a bunch of poor choices all in the name of YOLO. Instead, I think it’s better to live each day like it’s your first.

Beginnings, not endings, are where the magic lies. Think about it. Your first kiss. Your first love. Your first road trip. Your first time overseas. Your first time staring up at the stars. The first of everything has all the wonders of a miracle, packed with the freshness of a child’s perspective. That’s what we should strive for; to be born again each day and see the world with virgin eyes.

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Our lives are a dance between two views. The first, out the windshield of our mind, stretches before us while we steer safely behind the wheel. The second, in the rear-view mirror, looks back on all the things we’ve done. Life offers up moments to seize so that we may seize them. Like, for example, while on a work-sponsored visa run to Oman with only 24 hours to spare, it’s an easy yes when a coworker says hey, let’s rent a car and go explore the country.

Sure, there’s bound to be hang-ups, but all obstacles are just footnotes on the future story you’ll be telling your friends. Things like the hassle of finding your hotel and destination with no Wi-Fi connection or data; embarking on a 45-minute one-way hike through Wadi Shab with only a few hours of daylight remaining; having one of you cramp up while swimming in the turquoise pools of a submerged cave; or hiking back in near darkness to find that there is no boat to ferry you back to your car. What starts out as adversity, later through hindsight becomes hilarity.

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Life is ebb and flow. A constant battle between opposites: plenty and lack, up and down, love and loneliness. One moment we feel everything, the next nothing. It can be a crazy balancing act at times, riding the waves, while also getting overwhelmed by them. We like to think we can change the world, but in reality, it’s the world that changes us. To manage these shifting waters, we must dig deeper into the why before we can set sail on the how. And the why is all about exploration.

My advice. Remain unhinged. Tip the scales. Live a life of extremes. Try new things. Embrace what scares you. Find what you love and stake your mortality on it. One night, treat yourself to an expensive dinner. Buy that pricey glass of wine, go for dessert. The next night, slum it up. Eat a greasy burger and drink a PBR. A third night, stay at home and eat plain rice.

Go out one night and talk to everyone, then go out another night and talk to no one. Listen to a stranger and learn how beautiful they are, then go talk to another stranger and share with them your beauty. Get out of your comfort zone by doing something uncharacteristically you and then by doing something characteristically you.

Perhaps the more unbalanced you are, the more balanced life will become. If not, keep trying and remember sometimes you take from the scales and other times you give. Serenity comes from learning when do to which.

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It can seem daunting at first, searching for that initial ice breaker or magic word to talk to a complete stranger, but really, it’s quite easy. All you need are four words. Hi, how are you? Or just one, hello. As humans, we long for connection, whether it be love, friendship, or just someone to listen and take an interest in us if only for a little while. But to get there someone has to have the courage to take the plunge, that first step.

We tend to forget that while waiting for someone to take the initiative there’s a good chance they’re waiting for us to do the same. Whenever I feel shy or discouraged from talking to someone unfamiliar, I think of my five closest friends, the circumstances of how we met, and how they were strangers long before they were friends. One of us decided to make first contact and as a result we share so many stories, memories, and conversations. Life is equal parts deliberate as it is random. And all it takes is just one word to move us from the realm of chance to that of reality.

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Whenever I see a sunset, my heart reaches out and tries to touch something beyond my grasp. I’m overcome by an insatiable longing that only love can fill. But love is not always tangible. It’s often a piece of clay with the shape not yet fully realized. What that shape is all depends on the individual who crafts it.

The first girl I ever loved had no idea I loved her and has no idea still. Allison. For the longest time, I thought this unspoken love was wasted, a cosmic failure. I even wrote her a poem, one she’s never read or knows exists. The last stanza summing up the yearning in my heart. Like a pen worn upon a page, ink-dipped darkness radiates. Words written in a fog of blue, the only light I see is you.

Those words are hers and I have no regrets writing them. Love comes at us from so many different angles. Sneaking up on us out of the blue. Grabbing at us from the shadows. Infecting our insides so that we can’t think straight. Then leaving us on a whim. Moving on to someone or something else. Love is the one thing I will never fully understand and I’m okay with that. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s always changing, growing, and evolving, but remaining true to one constant: unconditional.

So, let love, even if it’s abandoned love, consume your body and soul. Let it shine in a smile you give to a stranger for free. Then and only then will you be the sun, a nucleus of love, erupting from within and spreading without, emitting warmth that in the darkness of space can still be felt even when there is no light.

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On every road trip, I experience at least one setback. This time, on the Connecticut/New York border, I suffered not one, but two flat tires, derailing my plans of camping and hiking Bear Mountain, the highest “summit” in Connecticut. The closest tire shop, Millerton Service Center, was a few miles away, but closed for the evening. With no cheap hotel option, I decided to spend the night curled up in my sleeping bag on a nearby park bench and deal with the flat tires first thing in the morning.

Expecting a lengthy and costly repair, I was pleasantly surprised when the owners, Mike and Adam, agreed to get me in the shop right away, a full fifteen minutes before it even opened. Less than an hour later, my car was good to go. One tire patched and the other replaced with a used they had in stock. The total $75. They even fixed a broken brake light at no additional cost. Feeling grateful, I paid in cash, an even hundred dollars.

Moments like this remind me that life will always break a string in the middle of your performance or find a way to sabotage the best laid plans, not because it has some evil agenda, but because life is built on unpredictability. Part of its allure and beauty is the messy parts, where magic and mysteries lay dormant for the unraveling.

The key take-away, things can always be worse. It’s how you react that matters most. Do you rage against the current or go with the flow? Initially, raging is easy. It’s the emotional child in us crying out that the world isn’t fair. Playing the victim is easy too, taking away all personal responsibility. It’s only when we take hold of the wheel in a firm grip no matter the circumstance that we’re better suited for life’s randomness.

The road goes on, with or without us. Sometimes all we need is a little air for our tires from strangers to get us back on the road and to appreciate all the things that can go right, even when they go wrong.

After the repair, I stuck with my original plan and hiked Bear Mountain. On the trail, I ran into a Brit making his way from Georgia to Maine. His goal, to complete the Appalachian Trail in the six months allotted to him by his visa. I wished him luck and told him if it was up to me, he wouldn’t have to worry about being deported regardless of how long it took him to reach Mt. Katahdin. From my perspective, there’s enough air for everyone’s tires.

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