The freedom of no longer caring what people think

WISDOM: Losing things is part of getting older, but sometimes it can lead to new freedoms. Picture: Tana888/Shutterstock
WISDOM: Losing things is part of getting older, but sometimes it can lead to new freedoms. Picture: Tana888/Shutterstock

My current holiday jaunt has brought me to the Blue Mountains. I grew up in this freezing paradise that scallops the west of Western Sydney.

I stayed at my parents' home with free board and lodging these last few days, until my mother asked me to come shopping with her. She's on a walking stick at the moment, so it seemed the right thing to do.

When I'm slim and dressed well I never bump into a soul, but whenever I'm overweight and dressed like a derelict the chances of bumping into people - and from my childhood - are sky high, especially in my hometown.

Not long after I enter the supermarket and start to relax after seeing a sea of strangers, I hear a familiar voice from a familiar face say "hello".

I know this girl. In primary school, I had a teacher who thought it was a good idea to sit the bad kids next to the good kids - a theory that has since been thoroughly discredited - and I got sat next to this girl.

I can't remember whether I was the good kid or the bad kid in this case.

However, I do remember two things: 1) she wouldn't let me share her liquid paper, which she would use every five minutes, and 2) she was constantly telling the teacher I was talking, which she knew ended in a public flogging - the likes of which are now against the law.

The frustrating thing was I could never get my revenge as she was so perfect she never did anything wrong I could dob on her for.

Which of us was good and which of us bad, I'll let you decide.

But if she never made any mistakes, why was she using liquid paper every five minutes?

This good girl grew up to be a good woman, and it was a good feeling knowing those sadder times were now all forgiven.

A few aisles later, Mum and I find ourselves at the deli section.

This was a little more confronting. I saw a kid from school - obviously now a man - I hadn't seen since I was a teenager. The last time I saw this man was decades ago at a fete where he and his mates were ready to knock my block off.

My parting words all those years ago to him and his cut-throats were something like "you better not start anything or you're dead meat!"

This statement wasn't based on any confidence in my fighting prowess, but rather on the fact I had five brothers and they were all at this fete.

How appropriate that our next meeting should be at the butcher - surrounded by dead meat.

We both briefly looked at each other. I'm thinking "surely he's not thinking of starting anything after all this time? If he does, I've still got the moves". He was probably thinking "who is this fat derelict staring at me, probably trying to steal my sausages?"

Why do we worry about what people think of us? They're not thinking about us.

I hadn't thought about these people for years and I'm confident they haven't been thinking about me either.

Getting older is in part about losing things. You lose your hair, you lose your teeth, you lose your ability to do things as quickly as you once could and you even lose the people you love.

Then what's to look forward to later in life? It's about losing a lot of the bad things, too.

Later life is about emptying. It's about losing your worries about how you look - remembering the word vain actually means "futile".

It's about losing your worries over what others are thinking of you - because while we are worrying what people think about us who do not think about us, we're not thinking about the thoughts of those who do think about us and love us.

In the end, getting older is the opportunity to lose your bad habits that long experience has shown do not serve you or others.

After losing all these inhibitions, you will have so much more space and time to walk a new path.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

This story Father Brendan Lee | The freedom of no longer caring what people think first appeared on The Canberra Times.