My nephew Josh is one of the most interesting people in my life. Unlike his sister who is passionate about music, instruments and being a charismatic individual, he is intensely curious about life. People who know him well think that he is way ahead of his time.
His mind functions in mysterious ways. His mum (my sister) has told me on numerous occasions that “I cannot comprehend the maturity of this son of mine. He seems to be light years ahead of me”. That could not be further from the truth. Having lived with him for a significant number of years, I know that his thought process is highly nuanced, complicated and admirable.
In the many conversations that we have on video calls, he is ever talking about things like dark matter, the moons of Jupiter, Planetary Science, traditional medicine, the benefits of learning martial arts, business and Theoretical Physics among many others. He knows things that most 14-year olds do not care about. The funny or amusing thing is that he knows them with a level of sophistry that makes me wonder where he gets the time to read and learn about them.
One time, back in December, he challenged me to tell him what particles make up the Sun. As I made an educated guess by saying that “it probably comprises of hydrogen and some other hot gases”, he blew me away with his specificity when he said to my surprised face that “it comprises a large ball of helium gases and hot plasma which radiate immense energy in form of visible light”.
That is just one instance. Many are the times when we have normal conversations and he suddenly comes up with an intriguing thought on an obscure subject like astronomy or regarding something like the manner in which stars die.
With him, there is ever an endless stream of questions on human consciousness, life after death, animations and extraterrestrial features. He makes my uncle duties very hard. Sometimes I miss the times when he was just a little boy who wanted to watch Tom and Jerry, draw some cartoon called Goku or obsess over Spiderman. In retrospect, those days seem like ages ago now. Since he discovered how to use the Internet, my life has never been the same. My phone has technically become his phone. We are at a stage where he sometimes goes to bed with it and only passes it over when someone is calling me. He uses it for cool internet games, searching conspiracy theories on Youtube and looking out for interesting DIY ideas.
There is never a dull moment with him. Well, except a few days ago when he seemed a little distressed over something that he was not keen to open up about. When I pressed him to tell me what it was, I realized that it is an issue that he had mentioned in passing last December during my graduation celebration but I didn’t follow up on. Apparently, he parted ways with one of his closest friends from school. His friend, Fran, moved to a new school in a faraway town leaving him all feeling sulky and a little bit off.
This is probably the first time ever I realized that Josh did not resort to the Internet to Google a solution to a problem. I know his friend well. He is a good boy. I have seen him in church several times together with his sister Candy who also happens to be Joy’s best friend. I know how playful he can be but that’s just the nature of kids.
Josh was gutted that Fran was leaving and that he would lose one of his best mates in school. As someone who changed schools twice in primary school, I know a thing or two about that feeling. It is sometimes hard to comprehend and accept at such as young age especially if you are one of those kids with very few close friends.
I didn’t know what to tell him so I resorted to giving some advice whose applicability to kids I am completely uncertain of. I felt like an old sage speaking to his grandson.
First of all, I drew his attention to the Dalai Lama who is the leader of the Tibetan people. I explained to him some of the critical and relevant teachings of the Dalai Lama that I have encountered in recent years. I was specific enough to inform him that most of our challenges or troubles as human beings stem from our passionate desire for attachment. “Most people get attached to things that they misapprehend as enduring entities” I said as he looked at me intently over the video call. “The Dalai Lama observes that we tend to pin our happiness to people, things and circumstances. We then hold on to them with our dear lives and melt with grief when something about the relationships or situations change”.
My message to my dearest nephew was that most of our insecurities come from our attachments. Attachments are not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we need friends and families for survival. Humans are wired to be highly social. The problem comes about when we let these attachments to people, things or circumstances define us. That is a dangerous zone to tread because any slight changes can leave us completely shaken and wallowing in despair. He was clearly attached to his best friend. Half of what I said to him probably made no sense but I hoped that he would appreciate and be present in his future friendships instead of letting them completely define him.
As a parting shot, I told him that life is full of partings or farewells and that he should brace himself for many of such. Also, I tried to raise another point that the Dalai Lama deems important for human development. He observes that one of the best ways of living is by appreciating transition.
Humans tend to hold on to the familiar even when they are not supposed to. Some of the motivations around this include security, fear of change and the desire for lasting attachments. Whilst these may be good reasons, it is essential to acknowledge that we limit our ability to experience more happiness and the beauty of the present when strongly hold to the familiar. I told my nephew to embrace transience and accept that his friend might never be coming back to his school. Besides, he still has so many prospects of forging as many interesting friendships as possible and sharing delightful moments at every available opportunity.
I wanted to tell him one of my favorite quotes but the video call stopped because of some connection problem. Had the call stayed on a little longer, I would have quoted him the words of Shannon Alder which have guided me for several years now. Shannon says that “The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go”.