How do you make yourself at home in a world that seems, if only you watch the news, bent on your destruction?
Start to think about life and death, and – even in a year that was, statistically, the best for the greatest number of people – it is death that has the upper hand. It is death that is normal and everywhere, caring little what we do.
Life is a fickle thing.
It doesn’t have to be a speeding bullet or a rending bomb or a tumbling plane.
Life’s slow-burn terror, the shortening of telomeres, plaques in your arteries, a microscopic virus, a stumble and fall, the next trip in your car, a little sting or sniff of something you turn out to be deadly allergic to… whether it is the sudden tragedy of a loss too soon or the protracted tragedy that is a long life, the only thing that’s sure is that it will end.
What is not sure is how it will end for any one of us individually, however – let alone what we do until it does.
And so, the big question is how we want to deal with the awareness of the end and its unknowability.
“Live every day as if it were your last” is one popular admonishment, and there is something to be said for it.
We do let so many extra-ordinary experiences go by hardly noticed, out of familiarity and a sense that we could always re-visit them the next, or another, day.
It may do us good to remember that every day, every experience, is what it is, at the moment of its happening, only in that moment of its happening.
Once gone, it’s gone.
That kind of enjoyment all well and good, but on your last day, you would probably not want to work on some project that will take long to come to fruition, let alone be at work to make a living.
When it comes to learning and training and projects that take long to pursue, then, the better advice may be this:
“Live every day as if you would live forever.”
Take care of yourself, not so you can be unscathed when you stumble into your grave, but so that the adventures you can have on the way there can go on all the way there rather than end prematurely.
Go on learning new things, even and especially if everyone keeps saying that it only gets harder, not so that you will necessarily become perfect or an expert, but so that you can be a beginner again – and see where it takes you.
We are all, after all, living in this tension between the enjoyment of the now and the requirements for later, the pressures of now and the potential of then – and the very real possibility both that our life could go on long or end any second.
Having to live with this awareness is what makes us human; living well in a balance of such things that seem all but impossible to balance is what makes for a better life.
Settle in and see-saw through the two sides. That’s living in reality.