We make too much of dying, and too little of living. Dying is harder when we haven’t lived. Dying is a threat when we live out our days without being alive in any of them. We shout, “NO!” to death because we need more time to get living figured out.
What are we waiting for? What would it take for us to be alive, and know that we are alive, rejoice in the experience of life, and relish deeply the moment of our living? What would it take for us to be alive to the day, each day—awake to, and aware of, the experience of the wonder of life at each point in every day? What would it take for us to love being alive, to love life, and to know that we were loving it, every day? If you answer these questions with “more money,” you have sit longer, reflect more.
If we are going to live, we have to know that we are alive. We have to love life, celebrate life, embrace life, enjoy life as often as possible—and every day is a worthy goal to aim for. What is it about your life that you love? What is it about living that you will miss terribly when it is gone? What are you going to regret not having done enough of when you die? Start doing more of these things. Wake yourself up, deliberately, consciously, intentionally. Step into your life. Notice your life. Open yourself to your life.
Find what is to appreciate, and appreciate it. Find what is to love, and love it. Dedicate yourself to the prospect of not living a day without being aware—somewhere in the day, every day—that you are alive, and living, and loving your life.
Here’s one for you: Stop reading this and decide right now what you want to do more of, and what you want to do less of. Commit yourself to doing more of what you love, and less of what you don’t love. That’s all there is to it. The things you don’t love will still be a part of your life, but they won’t be at the center, and with the shift, comes the beginning of transformation.
The wonder is that as we become aware of, and begin to deeply appreciate, the pluses of our lives, the minuses take on a different cast themselves. No one would think of loving the minuses. The things we hate are the things we hate, and we want to be rid of them, away from them. We wish someone would save us from them. But, it’s all a part of the mix. It’s all life.
As we love—intentionally, deliberately, deeply—any aspect of life, every aspect becomes more valuable. Not that we wouldn’t trade the bad in on more of the good, but we don’t get that option. There is no ridding ourselves of the bad, of the minuses, of the things we hate. We wake up, it’s there, sitting on our chest, waiting to give us another dose of misery, hopelessness, futility and despair. There is no escape. We run from a bear and a lion gets us—we run from the lion, reach the safety of home, slam the door, and a brown recluse nails us. The negatives are there, and they aren’t going away, but they are transformed in light of our love for the positives.
Something happens when we begin to relish any part of our lives. Just fall in love—see how that improves everything else about your life. The whole is redeemed by our love for the part. Saying, “YES!” with meaning to any aspect of our lives makes it easier to say “YES!” to all of life. Life is, after all, a whole. As we emphasize the value of part of it, we enhance the value of all of it. The bad stuff is still there but just as it “takes the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses,” the bad stuff forces us to develop strengths, capacities and qualities of character we would never have without them. Thus, the importance of living for something, of living toward something. We are saved by what we love.
What we love keeps us going. It wasn’t just the Cyclops that brought out the hero in Ulysses. It was also his love for where he was going, what he was doing. Subtract the love, and the Cyclops has his way with Ulysses. But with the love in place, even the Cyclops is transformed, and becomes a manageable milestone in Ulysses’ development.
Love for our lives—for some aspect of our lives—transforms all of life. We have to cultivate our capacity to love what there is to love about our lives, and love deliberately every day what is to be loved about that day.
Our losses can be significant, and they add up. The cumulative effect of small losses over time can equal the single impact of a major loss. We lose sight of this, and condemn ourselves for feeling as bad as we do when our lives are so much better than the lives of 90% of the world’s population. “I don’t have AIDS,” we say. “So, I have no reason to complain.” Yet, the combined weight of the unwanted that we carry over time is more than we can manage. Although no one thing there equals AIDS, for example, all of it together takes the life out of us, and we do not know how to bear that consciously, deliberately intentionally—so we are tempted to despair and give the hopelessness of a life so unfair, unjust, and uncaring. We are tempted to trudge through our lives, refusing all joy, because who can enjoy anything in a world as sorry as this one. A world as sorry as this one needs to know how sorry it is, so we all must suffer constantly—in order to register our complaint and no one will have any reason to think that it is okay with us that things are as they are.
Everything rides on how we bear the pain. Why exacerbate the pain? Why make the pain the center and focus of our lives? “Oh, but we can’t help it!”, we say. “Oh, but it’s so bad, how can we do anything but succumb to the badness? How can we live in a world like this world without being bitter and undone? How dare we enjoy anything about our lives in a world like this one?” My rejoinder is “How dare we not?” How dare we fail to enjoy what is to be enjoyed? How dare we walk by unseeing the things that are good, and beautiful, and wondrous? How dare we live with eyes only for the abysmal and the appalling?
If we are going to be alive, we are going to have to be alive in this world just as it is! I’m here to dare you to do it! I’m here to challenge you to do it! I’m here to call you, plead with you, beg you to do it! When we die, we are going to be dead for a very long time. Why add one day to the total of days we will be dead? Why die before our time? Why not live while the opportunity for life is upon us?
Yes—it is a sorry world in a lot of ways. Yes—we can imagine an infinite number of ways it could be improved. Yet, this is the way things are. We can improve what can be improved—and we must—but we will still find that, after all the improvements are made, we live on life’s terms. That’s the deal. Will we accept it? Will we make of it all that can be made of it? Will we wrap our arms around it and say, “YES!” to it, and live with all the spirit, and energy, and enthusiasm we can muster for as long as life is possible? That’s the question—and I’m thinking we’d be crazy not to live the life that can be lived for as long as it can be lived. To do that, we have to love what can be loved with all that is in us all day long, every day, for the rest of our life—and see what that does for the rest of the experience of living.