Last week Theodora Goss wrote about becoming more fearless, and she had this to say:
“Perhaps it’s when you come to the realization that the point of life isn’t to be rich, or secure, or even to be loved — to be any of the things that people usually think is the point. The point of life is to live as deeply as possible, to experience fully. And that can be done in so many ways.”
I love this so much. I love it not only because I agree with it, but also because it redefines what “success” is. It allows us to be kind with ourselves about the inevitable mistakes and confusion and decisions that didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Because all of that, the laughter and tears, the messes and triumphs, they all become woven into the tapestries of our lives. And to value all of them seems to me to be celebrating life in a more complete way.
It’s not that the other things Dora lists aren’t important. Money is useful for obvious reasons (read: not starving to death). Security–that feeling that the earth isn’t going to shift underneath you at any moment–well, I think some of us crave security more than others, and for those of us who do crave it, not having it can produce inordinate amounts of stress. And love–we all learned from The Christmas Carol that love, both the personal kind and the more general goodwill towards humans kind, is more important than wealth. And indeed, love of all kinds can be a deeply enriching experience.
However, all of these things can be stripped away. Here today, gone tomorrow. Huge financial crisis, lay-offs at work, a medical crisis, and your money is gone. Career change, bad health news, a house fire, and security is gone. Death, divorce, drifting away, and the love might not be gone, but it has certainly altered. Because the fundamental truth of being human is that the world and our experience of the world are in constant flux, whether we want that or not.
This is why I like what Dora said so very much. Because living as deeply as possible, that does not have to change, at least not until death. “As possible” is key here; we may not get to live as we would choose, but we can still have as our goal to live as fully as possible given our circumstances. There are so many possibilities of what that could look like. Maybe I can’t travel to China this year (wouldn’t that be a fabulous trip to take?), but I can go to Seattle. And write a novel. And read beautiful books. The challenge then becomes creating something meaningful out of what you can make possible.
Living like this takes a lot of courage, I think (which makes sense, given that Dora was talking about fearlessness). It is hard to let go of specific ideas of what we want. It is hard to create meaning when circumscribed in various ways. It is hard to accept that things change when we were comfortable or happy with the way they were before. It is hard to cast ourselves on the winds of life and attempt to steer even though we might not know exactly where we are going. (And if we do know, we are often wrong.)
But when I lie on my deathbed, I think this is what will matter to me, this passionate living of life. I’ll care a bit about the physical comforts that money can bring me, sure. I probably won’t care much about security given that I’ll be dying. I’ll care a lot about the people I love and the time I have been able to spend with them. And I’ll care about how I spent the time I had. I’ll care that I lived with all my being, that I did courageous things, that I listened to Thoreau and sucked the marrow right out of life.
How do you want to spend your life?