When someone you have known your entire life suddenly sky rockets to fame at the age of 38 - it causes you to reflect. It's easy to see what's happening to him as proof of some rather cliché phrases - like "never give up!" - "believe in your dreams!" etc . As a culture we have a tendency to take the stories of the "rich and famous" and learn from them - as if by tracing back their path we can somehow also learn how to be as successful as they are. But I think the lesson of Laith is much deeper - and more importantly, relevant to those of us who will never achieve his level of success and even those of us who wouldn't want the fame and notoriety (even though as Americans it's our duty to all want to be rich and famous ; ).
"Each man had only one genuine vocation - to find the way to himself....His task was to discover his own destiny - not an arbitrary one - and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's own inwardness." - Herman Hesse
I'm going to sprinkle in a few Herman Hesse quotes in this post - because I think Hesse is awesome - and I think that Laith's life has been more true to the philosophy of Hesse than anybody I know. Last night I listened to a recording Laith and his band "Blue Vinyl" made in 1994, when he was 16 years old. Yes, his voice sounded somewhat different, but he had a lot of things in place that is making him successful today. The growl was even there already - the virtuosic guitar - the songwriting - the arranging etc. I was there for the transformation from choir boy to rock/blues musician. It happened quickly - like within 12-18 months. It's as if something or someone was speaking through Laith. He worked hard, but it came so naturally to him. He somehow found his Hesseian self at a young age and has never looked back.
I have had some experiences in the last few years where I had to make some tough choices. I'm still in the middle of it actually. At times I've been the only person out of my friends and family who has agreed with my chosen way forward. My chosen path may or may not lead to success. However, I have found incredible strength in following my own vision - regardless of what anybody - even the people who care about me think.
Laith has been like that since he was a teenager. He has always chosen his own way - regardless of what his family or friends might think. It wasn't that we didn't have faith in him or his talent - it was that we wanted him to have more stability - a more "comfortable" life. However, the older I get the more I believe that as humans we are not meant to live in a place of comfort. We are supposed to be uncomfortable - continuing to push forward for what feels right for ourselves - regardless of what anybody else thinks. Even now I find myself trying to find some kind of sustainable path for Laith - but the truth is that Laith and only Laith can find his own path. His choices might lead to the kind of success that we all want for him - or it might lead to an outcome that appears less desirable. But it's not my place to plan that path for him - it's simply my job to love him - just the way he is - and to be thankful that I have a friend who has always had the courage to live his own way.
That is the lesson of Laith - the lesson that I hope to take for my own life - to hear "the teachings of my blood pulsing within me" - as Hesse would put it. The seeker of truth does not look for comfort he realizes that by listening to the voice inside him that is life will not be "sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves." Laith lives the way he does - not because he necessarily would lead him to huge success (although he seems to be on the precipice of just that) - but because to do otherwise would be to betray his essential nature.
"a real living human being . . . represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature . . . every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of every consideration."
We all have an essential nature - made from our biology and our experiences. As much as we may want to escape it at times - we cannot. We usually find that the long path simply comes back around to where we wanted to escape. We must embrace who we are - live in the way that is most true to our nature without apologizing. It seems like it is the harder path, but it is much less of a burden than carrying around the artifice required to live the life that would "make others happy."
One last quote from Hesse that seems relevant to Laith - "I like listening to music, but only the kind you play, completely unreserved music, the kind that makes you feel that a man is shaking heaven and hell." I think he would approve of Laith's music.