One day at school when I was 15 years old, the last class of the day was cancelled and the senior pupils were all ushered into the main hall.
Up on stage, the headmaster introduced us to an old guy, crisp white hair and dusty suit, and explained that he was going to talk to us about drugs.
A thousand eyes rolled, but we were out of lessons, so we went with it.
The old man told us about his son Paul, a lover of rock music and a guitarist in the band Free, whose big hit came in 1970 with the song “All Right Now”. He pulled us in with tales of his sons success, how the band split soon after hitting it big and how Paul then slipped further and further into unhappiness and drug-taking.
The old man’s voice turned the air to stone as he told us how Paul was just 25 when he died from drug-related heart problems on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, an event that still shook him to his core some 10 years later.
The old man’s memories tore through us as we sat there in the hall, and when the bell sounded for the end of the school day we stirred uneasily, wondering if we were free to go but still bound by his story.
Recognising our restlessness, the old man threw a mountain from the stage.
I HATE WASTE, he boomed.
The room froze
He explained how much possibility his son carried with him, how much life he had to live and how much he could have created.
I hate waste, he whispered.
And with that, he thanked us, walking off the stage as though with an open wound in his chest.
I’ll never forget the day that David Kossoff came in to speak to us at school. Not for the anti-drugs message (I’ve never smoked so much as a single cigarette), but for helping to plant the notion that possibility was something that could either be embraced and nurtured or ignored and wasted.
I too hate waste.
The most heart-breaking thing I know of is someone who’s stopped believing in their own possibility
Someone who forgets about everything that might be ahead of them, and instead settles for what’s come before.
I think, more than anything, it’s this idea that drives me. It’s not the fear that I might not be living up to a nebulous, saccharine notion of potential, but a continual choice about the kind of man I want to become.
I don’t want to set my gaze on the ground to avoid wondering what’s at the horizon.
I don’t want to shake my head at the worst of life so that it’s easier to deaden my heart.
I don’t want to be disappointed that I didn’t try.
I don’t want to put more stock in peoples’ worst than their best.
I don’t want to be okay not being a part of something bigger than me
I don’t want to have my laughter replaced with bitterness
I don’t want to be content observing life through a window
But, I’ve seen that waste happens incrementally and imperceptibly. It creeps like ivy; a millimetre when you decide to tread water and see what happens. A fraction when you let self-protection stop you being curious. Thickening when you turn where you are into what you need to be doing and lose sight of what could be.
This kind of waste isn’t benign, it’s not like composting. Your garden won’t grow by saving up the things you’ve been wasting and leaving behind in the hope that one day it’ll nourish everything living.
The things you waste end up in your feet. In your hands. In your heart. They slow your motion. They weigh you down. They stop you playing.
I think I’ve been wasting things, because every now and then I notice myself stomping around, feet heavy with things-left-behind, eyes cast downwards, angry that my life isn’t better than it is.
The good news is, I know that the feeling of “things ought to be better” is just my brains way of blaming everyone else for the things I’m wasting.
My response is not to eradicate waste, because that has me looking at the ivy rather than the light coming in through the window. My response is just to do things better.
With laughter on my lips. With curiosity in my eyes. With possibility at my fingertips.
You too, get to chose your response. You get to say what kind of person you want to be.
Tell me, who is that person?