Time blends together especially seamlessly in seasonless Southern California, but I am pretty sure it was the year 2010 when I sat in a McDonald’s drive-through with my large black friend from Compton, Calif. How else do you typically picture an Asian and a black guy hanging out? Water boy and jock? Lawyer and defendant? Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker? That’s about it.
With the intersection of our radically different worlds being limited to hitting on drunk white girls together, I found it all the more surprising that this random fast food stop ended up yielding a life guideline for me. My invariably jovial buddy ordered a double cheeseburger or some derivative, and I badgered him to request no mayonnaise. He said no. I countered with no cheese, and he said no. As I launched into a lecture about his genetic risks for high blood pressure, he cut me off and bellowed:
“Just let me live my life, Tang!”
The animated plea did not strike me as profound at the time, merely funny because everything this guy says generates some degree of humor. (One time, in response to a female crying over her broken relationship and presumably wanting to be consoled, he pulled out his penis and said, “It’s OK baby, you got options.” I don’t know what happened after that and don’t want to know. The scene is too perfect in my mind to culminate in anything less than marriage, let alone a harassment charge.) But over the years, that line — Just let me live my life, Tang! — has routinely popped into my head and much more frequently as I transitioned into my 30s. If my 20s were about learning how to live life to the fullest, my 30s will be about figuring out how to die in peace.
I spent many idealistic days trying to impose my version of order on the world around me, so much so that a few loved ones still think of me as being on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. I would rant and argue and implore against what I considered inefficient or unhealthy or illogical. I even dedicated about half of a book to addressing these perceived ills.
There really is no substitute for experience, trial and error, constant calibration and recalibration. Through countless iterations, I am coming to the realization that a lot of my happiness hinges on not caring so much about yours. So what if you don’t see how exercise improves quality of life or garbage reality television detracts from it? So what if you waste gas by not combining trips and leisure by combining every free moment with Facebook? So what if I think you give up too easily or are too scared to try new things, thereby enforcing an arbitrary ceiling on your utility levels? It doesn’t matter what I think. You do you. I love that saying. I use it at least once every 10 days. It is the correct response to virtually every innocuous situation that does not sit neatly within the confines of my opinions.
To be clear, I am not advocating the surrender of all principle here. Some things are worth taking a stand against: Nazis, wildfires, ebola. The ALS ice bucket challenge… maybe let that one slide if it rubs you the wrong way and just let people have their time on Earth. You do you. And if I try to stop you, remind me of this great line I once heard at a McDonald’s window and will not soon forget.