I’m not one for quotes.
I roll my eyes whenever I see “Live, Laugh, Love.” I sigh whenever someone brings up their favorite author from 11th grade English to talk about how insightful they were.
And every time I see a complex political idea condensed into some bumpersticker catchphrase, I want to dig a moat around myself until I create the world’s newest — and bitchin’est — ocean.
(Zookeanus, I’d call it.)
But some quotes do speak to me. More than that, they stick with me for years or even decades.
Sometimes, they make me rethink how I’m living my life right now.
Other times, they’re good reminders to appreciate what I have because it’ll probably be gone one day.
But no matter what, they make me want to be a better person.
These are the seven unusual quotes that stick with me every day.
#1. From “Right in Two” by Maynard James Keenan
Growing up, for some reason I really gravitated to the band Tool.
Their songs blew my mind. They mainly play minor pentatonic scales in different rhythms underneath a series of poetically dark and you-have-to-hear-it-twice-to-get-it kinds of lyrics.
In 2006 — my junior year of high school — Tool released the album 10,000 Days. The album’s namesake is roughly the amount of time singer Maynard Jame Keenan’s mother took to pass away after major medical complications.
As a result, most of the songs (and Keenan’s life, by the sounds of things) were inspired by that event.
While all of the songs are pretty much winners on that album, including the one where two people chant and jingle beads over a distorted guitar, my favorite is track #10 — Right in Two.
Right in Two is a conversation between two angels watching humanity and asking one another what God could’ve possibly been thinking when He made them.
The whole conversation is incredible to hear, and I feel like I find something new in it every time I listen — even after 13 years.
My favorite part is when it lyrically culminates in this gem:
For me, this quote serves as a strong (albeit grim) reminder that the beauty of life is in the fact that it’s temporary.
That temporariness — whether you want to acknowledge it through faith or existential crises or whatever — is part of why life is so exciting, fun, and worthwhile.
Refusing to acknowledge it is on par with blindly drifting through life, creating an experience for yourself where you one day wake up, you’re 70, and you wonder why you spent 20 years at the same company.
This quote is motivation to get up, recognize the inherent luckiness in being alive, and make memories for yourself (and others, too).
No one has ever been on their deathbed and said “I wish I would’ve worked more.”
And if “work” is all the accolades someone has to commemorate the fact that they had ever lived?
“Repugnant” is a good word.
#2. From John 15:13 by Apostle John
I grew up Mennonite. At some point in my early adolescence, I chose to read the Bible cover to cover on my own.
Then, I read it again.
Consequently, I’m not Mennonite anymore.
But I’m also aware of the fact that for all of its problematic implications and horribly outdated worldviews, the Bible still has wisdom in it that applies to modern life.
The one verse that’s always stuck with me is one about service and sacrifice.
Despite the fact that this quote reads like it was written by a recently-concussed Yoda, it’s an inspiring truth that changed how I look at relationships.
It’s not just the self-sacrifice in this quote that makes it noteworthy — it’s the unspoken circumstances around the quote.
Jesus was so infatuated and felt so blessed by those he kept in his company that he told them there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.
Notice that he didn’t say “spouse” or “child.”
To me, this feels like the basis for the saying Blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb, meaning the “blood brothers” you make in your life are more important than the family into which you were born.
You choose with whom you spend your life.
We should all be so lucky that we would want to lay down our lives for one of our own friends.
And we should be so honored that we have inspired such reckless love in someone else that they would do the same for us.
#3. From the Colbert Show by Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves may very well be the most interesting person on the planet.
By all accounts, he’s seen more than his fair share of personal tragedy. Maybe that’s why he spends so much of his own time and money for the benefit of others.
While on the Colbert Show promoting the movie John Wick 3, Stephen Colbert asked Reeves what he thinks happens when we die.
It was intended as a joke to be glib at the fact that the John Wick franchise is an unapologetic killfest.
But Reeves brought the joke to a halt and made people cry.
For most of my life, I’ve wondered about the circumstances leading up to and immediately following death.
It could be because I saw a fair share of funerals in my childhood.
(In fact, that’s probably why.)
But death has fascinated me because I never got the feeling that someone became an angel or ascended to Heaven or plummeted into Hell.
To me, it always looked like the dead were sleeping.
If anything, that made the reality of the situation 100 times worse. You can wake someone up when they’re asleep.
But looking like sleep is different.
So I don’t know what happens after we die from a metaphysical standpoint. I have no idea if supernatural phenomena exist, and I’m inclined to think that all ghost hunters are, in their own ways, total assholes for thinking they can invoke the dead as a means of earning money.
But I do know one thing — and Keanu Reeves said it better than I ever could.
When we go, the ones we love will miss us.
If you live a life of motivation and excitement, spend your time with friends you love so much that you’d rather the world have them than you, and be the kind of person who’s missed then they go — I’d say you’ve lived a life worth a biography.
#4. From “Sojourn of Arjuna” by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
So let’s stop talking about death for a sec.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is a jazz fusion group that’s famous for having a lot of “bests.”
They have the best banjo player in Bela Fleck. They have the best bassist in Victor Wooten.
And they also say “yes” to a lot of unusual ideas.
One of these ideas is the song Sojourn of Arjuna, which is actually an excerpt from the Hindu holy text, the Bhagavadgita.
In the excerpt, Prince Arjuna is fighting a war with relatives about who will control India.
His relatives get inexhaustible armies and supplies. Arjuna gets the advice of the supreme personality of God, Krishna.
Sojourn starts when Arjuna is despairing about killing so many (he’s a legendary archer) and being responsible for the deaths of his own troops.
Krishna turns it on him and points out that his troops choose to serve, and in so doing, they protect those who cannot fight themselves.
In other words, Krishna invents the concept of opportunity cost. Arjuna may lose men and his own life, but how many more will die if he doesn’t stand?
Arjuna then gets frustrated, which is when Krishna, as the song says, “drops a little science on him.”
This quote was the first time I ever heard about self-improvement from the perspective of a holy text.
Sure, the Bible has a lot of information about how you can be a good person and how to not hurt people.
(Whether you follow that advice is your choice.)
But I hadn’t heard anyone say that becoming a good person was a process.
As a 13-year-old — the age when I first heard this song — this was a revelation. I didn’t have to be a good person or a bad person.
There was more to life than a heads-tails coinflip about what your behavior meant.
If I could become a better person incrementally, then it was okay that I was a semi-shitty 13-year-old with a bad attitude and antisocial tendencies.
I had the rest of my life to get better.
And if I had that, I could take small steps every day to make myself a better person.
I failed a lot in that regard. I still do, too.
But I never would’ve understood the importance of incremental, personal improvement if I hadn’t heard this ancient Hindu wisdom converted to a spoken-word jazz fusion melody.
Also, I bet that’s the first time that sentence has ever been said.
#5. From One of My College Roommates
In college, I gravitated to people who had the same hobbies that I had — music, writing, and video games.
I met Chris Franklin my freshman year, and he nailed 2/3 of those.
We hung out a lot, started a band together, and talked about everything from existentialism to the future of journalism.
We also talked about how to get along with people, make friends, and just get other people.
One day in our junior year at Penn State, he changed my life with a sentence.
Franklin — or Franklinberry, as I called him when we were drinking — was spot on.
I’ve remembered this sentence for almost a decade, and every time I remember to look around a room to verify its truth, it’s always right on the money.
I’m not saying it’s okay to profile. Profiling is wrong.
But I am saying that it’s a blast to people-watch. When you spend enough time watching people, you start to see certain patterns emerge.
This sentence from Franklin is what made me think that someone’s face in the middle of hysterical laughter is probably the same face they make when they’re hysterically crying.
It’s twisted, crumpled, moist, and probably reeking of alcohol if you’re between the ages of 18 and 30.
And the louder you are when you do it, the more attention you get from those around you.
This quote from Franklin made me think about “attention” for a long time. Was it something everyone needed? Or could you get through life without caring whether someone looked at you when you were at a party?
I tried this — a lot. I’m a natural wallflower anyway, so blending into the woodwork during a full-on banger was surprisingly easy. I wound up spending a party with a dog once. She was pretty cool.
But I felt fine every time. I’d have a few drinks, keep to myself, talk sometimes, and head home when I got tired.
It felt pretty amazing.
Incidentally, this quote helped me catch myself a lot in my early- and mid-20s when I probably went out to bars more than I should’ve.
I’ve definitely been the loud guy at the bar before.
And I can tell you from remembering how I felt and what I was thinking during that experience — Franklinberry nailed it.
#6. From One of My Middle School Friends
In eighth grade, I was fresh out of Mennonite school with two years of real-life public school under my belt.
I had an English class with an awesome teacher (Mr. Query), and I met a friend who basically made me laugh 100% of the time.
Bryan Bawell and I spent a lot of time talking about school, popularity, girls — the standard 13-year-old boy stuff.
One day, we were talking about what it meant to be popular.
Then, he blew my mind and set the stage for how I would perceive politics and interpersonal relationships for the rest of my life.
This one is kind of simple, so I won’t spend forever talking about it.
But it makes sense, right?
It’s probably the mantra of every reality TV “star” since Road Rules, along with pretty much every democratically-elected politician.
Who cares if people like you?
When they recognize your name, you’ve already won.
And if you think that has terrifying implications for society, you’re right.
#7. From “The Ends and the Means” by Robby Hecht
I don’t have much of a preamble for this one. I just like the song.
The main part that sticks with me is the last line — every word you choose to say, you teach the world to live that way.
It made me rethink everything I think and say.
I try to be a level-headed person. When I was younger, I had a rough temper.
Throughout my teens and adulthood, I channeled most of what was my unreleased temper into general road rage and yelling at jaywalkers from the safety of my car.
But diffusing the anger wasn’t the problem. The problem was the unnecessary anger in the first place.
Since I first heard this song — maybe two or three months ago — I’ve actively tried not to care about the random dumb things I see people do every day.
It doesn’t work all the time.
But when it does, I don’t feel anger. Sometimes I laugh. Most of the time, I forget what happened and move on with my day.
My goal is to never be the guy who bitches that someone cut him off in traffic 12 hours after it happened. I never want that to be my story because, holy nuts, what a sad, empty shell of a life I’d lead if I did.
I haven’t gotten there yet. Hopefully, I never will.
And if incremental self-improvement has taught me anything, I just need to keep at it.
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