How much value do we put into things as opposed to experiences or the raw value of just being alive?
Recently, my MacBook Pro was destroyed in a freak accident, and I realized after being shattered over losing it, how much worth we should put into being alive over a possession.
“We live in this paradise island, don’t we?” he shouted at me from across the road. I glanced around to make sure that this shirtless, tattooed, leather skinned , buzzed-headed stranger in the distance was calling out to me. After all, it’s not a rare sight to see people shouting at nothing around Los Angeles.
He dodged a car and made his way over to where I was slouched on the curb. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to someone at that moment, let alone deal with some weird stranger.
Another car barely missed hitting him as he kicked his bike over toward me like riding a scooter. He hopped off the beaten ride a couple of feet in front of me with a “woah” and approached.
I shifted my camera bag and belongings behind me.
“Paradise island huh?” he asked, and I responded with an “Mhm.”
I had no clue what he was talking about.
“I just got hit by a car maaaaaan…” he said, and that’s when I noticed the blood dripping from his arm.
“Are you alright?” I asked, which he seemed to be from what I could see.
“Yeah bro, just crazy people in this world”
“Seems like it” I said. “You almost got hit again there, you’ve gotta’ be a bit more careful.” I don’t know why I felt the need to fuel a conversation with a response. After all, I wanted him to move on.
He stared at me with his squinty eyes…his mouth clenching constantly and hands gripping the handlebars over and over. Clearly a California lifer, and maybe what some consider a street lifer.
“Makes you appreciate life maaaaan” he said as he walked a little bit closer. “And I lost my phone and and wallet and everything“.
“Yeah, I just had my laptop destroyed” I said. And that’s exactly why I was slouched on the side of the road by that alleyway in the first place.
I prepared for him to ask for something with a quick response like you’d give most around Los Angeles.
“Got any weed or cigarettes maaaan?
“Nah, I’ve got nothing” I responded, and stood up as if to leave.
“Alright man, but remember, we live in a paradise world filled with things, but they just things maaaan”. And with that, he put his hands together and gave an teetering bow, then hopped back on the bike and rode away.
A broken laptop and a broken spirit.
Just hours before that encounter with the street lifer buddha, my new Macbook Pro had been destroyed. You can’t see it in the photo about, but it was bent After the accident (which I won’t get into detail about), I clutched its mangled body in my arms and nearly wept, filled with anger and sorrow and despair.
What would I do without it? How would I make money or keep traveling without it?
This hunk of bent and lifeless aluminum was useless now, but hours before it was an integral part of my life. My most prized possession, one that I had spent an enormous chunk of my savings on (after all, to a budget backpacker, a few thousand dollars is quite a lot), was gone.
The way I reacted, you’d think I lost a puppy or even a child. No, it was just my laptop.
But it was a source of my income. It was an outlet for my creative pursuits. It was an important tool working toward goals and dreams. It was essentially everything to me, ingrained in my daily life. Or so I felt at first.
Immediately following the accident, I removed the hard drives from my torn backpack that held all of my travel memories, my camera gear, and other technology. I checked them all to see if any were salvageable. Most were scratched or beaten up, but still intact. It was just the Macbook Pro that sat on the table bent and shattered.
What would I do without my prized Macbook Pro?
I felt the world closing in on me. My mind drifted into a torrent of horrible scenarios. I wouldn’t be able to get any freelance work done. I’d lose travel opportunities. I’d have to spend my last amount of savings on a new laptop knowing I couldn’t even afford that.
For an hour afterward, I laid on the hardwood floor of my friend’s apartment and sulked. I thought of all the ways I could to fix the issue. Of possible solutions to getting my freelance work done. Use my iPhone? Lease an iPad and somehow figure out how to edit websites and get serious photography and video work completed on it?
After a while on the floor, I picked up my Macbook Pro and decided to wander down to the Apple Store. I already suspected what the answer would be, given I worked at Apple once upon a time and had to give the bad news to people like myself in this situation. But I still went, maybe I just wanted to mourn it and lay it to rest amongst its other shiny and expensive brothers and sisters.
The day was bright, the sun warmed my skin, and the breeze was pleasant through the picturesque tree-lined back roads of Santa Monica, but none of that mattered. For the entire 40 minute walk to the Apple store, anger smoldered inside.
Nothing could make me happy.
I wanted to break things.
I cursed aloud.
I held back hot tears that welled up in my eyes.
After years of not allowing myself to be affected enough by something to cry over it — be it relationships that didn’t work out, or depression, or even the most frustrating experiences from traveling, I was really THAT sad about a computer?
It seemed so. As I walked, it bothered me that I was this emotional about a thing. That I was that pissed off about it. Was it all that important to me?
Clearly, a laptop had become one of the most important things in my life.
Along the way, I spotted two legs hanging out of a large trashcan wiggling about as someone outside held them up from the outside, with the person’s torso hidden inside the bin looking for food or valuables. In a city like Los Angeles, sights like this on the street are frequent and often ignored.
And I thought I had nothing?
I looked at my laptop and sighed and remembered what I told that stranger earlier that day.
When I arrived at the Apple Store, saw the familiar sight of people admiring the different aluminum clad products, snapping selfies inside the store, or complaining about something to a technician. The occasional person raising their voice and getting angry about something to an employee. All of the things that, when I worked there, made me shake my head about how attached people were to their things. How somehow would yell at another human being over their coffee taking too long, or however many other unimportant things that can piss off a person throughout their day,
And here I was, feeling like it was the end of the world when my Macbook Pro got destroyed.
During the appointment, I sat slouched and sad as if I had munched on frownie-brownies all day, and waited for the technician to tell me that I was fucked.
When he came back, he smiled and said, “It seems that somehow the innards are fine. So we have to send it out and transplant everything into a new body. That’ll be about $475“.
My mouth dropped. I fully expected that the laptop was completely destroyed and I would need to buy another Macbook Pro. One that I couldn’t afford. That wasn’t the case, they’d just need to replace the body, screen, keyboard, and battery for 1/4 of the price I thought it’d be.
A rush of relief passed over me, and I’d have a “new” laptop by the end of the week.
When I left the store, I could already feel my mood improved a thousand fold. I wandered down to the beach and plopped down near the water. I dug my toes and fingers into the warm sand feeling it fill the cracks. I watched and listened to the waves crash before me over and over. People leaped over the waves and splashed about, kids frolicked on the beach. The sun shone on my face, the ocean air-filled my lungs, and I was happy once again.
Then it hit me. I had let a thing gain control over me.
All of my woes drifted away and I realized just how temporary that emotion over a thing had been, and how happy I’ve always felt in nature either way.
The sun dipped lower and lower on the horizon, painting the sky pastel and the rolling ocean a molten silver, and I sat thinking about it all over and over again about the day and analyzing all the emotions.
This was what really made me happy. These kinds of moments.
For someone who lives out of a backpack and carries everything he owns it, with all of my other worldly belongings (birth certificates, family photos, etc.) in a small vintage trunk left in the care of friends, I put so much value and emotional attachment into a shiny thing. Usually, I’d be the first person to tell people to let go of their possessions because it’ll make them feel lighter, that experiences are more important.
Yes, the Macbook Pro is important to my work.
Yes, that laptop is a valuable tool for my creative and passionate works.
Yes, that shiny expensive thing is integral in the freelance work I do and helps me make money to keep traveling.
But it isn’t the end of the world if it breaks. It isn’t the most important thing in my life. It isn’t something that has a life of its own and doesn’t make me feel alive just by holding it. It doesn’t make me smile just to look at it or touch it or smell it or listen to it. By using it, I do a lot of things that make me happy like writing or creating videos, but it doesn’t make me happy just existing.
All fixed up and ready to rock.
True happiness exists in life, not in things.
While traveling, I’ve been to some countries that are considered the poorest in the world, yet the people have been some of the friendliest and most genuine I’ve ever met. I think much of this can be attributed not to putting so much value in shiny possessions, but being grateful for being alive and sharing that with friends.
On long journeys, or living a childhood fantasy, or making best friends in some strange new city, I don’t have my Macbook Pro clutched to my body thinking “By golly, today wouldn’t have nearly been as great without you…”
When I’ve had my best friends with me on an adventure — be it doing something insane like the Rickshaw Run, or being invited to dance on stage in Myanmar during Thingyan, or hundreds of others experiences, a laptop wasn’t a part of that happy memory.
I can’t live without it…
Sometimes I hear people who say, “I can’t live without my phone or laptop” or something along those lines. It makes me think that if that’s the case, they aren’t really living enough then. Our happiness shouldn’t depend on the things we have, but the experiences in life and the people we share them with.
Sure, my Macbook Pro getting destroyed could have made some things in my lifestyle a bit more difficult, but it wasn’t the end of everything. Not even close.
It reminded of the importance of memories and experiences and how wonderful it is just to be alive each day. I don’t own a lot, but I am rich by having the most wonderful friends and family that care about me, and simply a place to lay my head at night. Just to wake up each morning, I couldn’t ask for much more than that. And I shouldn’t.
It reminded me that there are so many other people around the world having a much worse day than me. That had much less than me. That even living on a basic level was a struggle each day. That the things we own won’t matter when we’re in the grave and don’t really matter now.
I think we all need to put everything down more often and just think of how amazing it feels just to be alive. And the happiness it feels to share that with other people in our lives.
At least, that was the lesson this whole experience taught me.