Friday, August 07, 2009

Live Your Life. Now.

One of my aunt’s closest friends has passed, leaving behind a husband, and 3 children, the youngest of whom is 8.

She was in her mid-forties, and had been living comfortably with a fibroid tumor which was diagnosed at least 2 years ago. She did not have it removed because she had all her children through caesarian operations, and was too afraid to go under the knife a fourth time. Who can blame her? And yet, perhaps she should have, and would have if she had known that it would kill her. About 2 weeks ago, she complained of abdominal pain, and was taken to a nearby clinic where she was given pain killers. The drugs seemed to work, and she was discharged from the hospital. A few days later, the pains came back with greater force, she was sent back to the same clinic, where she was admitted and treated until her doctor felt he could not do anything about it, at which time she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. The oxygen in the ambulance was not enough and we think she died from suffocation.

My aunt is deeply saddened. She has been weepy all week. Having had surgery to remove her own fibroid tumor several years ago, maybe she regrets not pushing her friend to do it too. Maybe she feels lucky that her own tumor did not kill her.

I feel lucky that my favorite aunt is still here. I feel lucky that I have never lost anyone close to me. But I know I will not be lucky forever, and that as surely as night follows day, someday, maybe sooner than I think, my family will be visited by death.

Because life ends, I believe it must be lived with gusto. If I had a philosophy for life, it would be to live my dreams. Now. I think too many people get bogged down in planning - planning to do something, to be something, to say something, to spend time with their loved ones, yet never quite living that life which they plan. For me, this past year has been the happiest time in my life because I have been living exactly the life I want to live. Making that leap from living in the future to living in the present is daunting at first, but once you do it once, you’re able to do it over and over again in all areas of your life, because it brings you joy. I can’t count how many times this year, I’ve erupted with laughter because I’m sitting somewhere, by myself and I realize, it doesn’t get better than this. Where I am is exactly where I want to be. This is the life!

So I’d like to encourage you to also “live your life”!
I leave you with the following article and I hope you get something out of it.

Life Is A Tragedy Full Of Joy: Richard Gilbert

Is life a tragedy or a celebration, or some combination of the two; in which case, how do we find the balance? We tend to forget that the full meaning of tragedy is not simply the failure of human plans or the cruelty of fate. Tragedy grows out of the good. Tragedy is our human fate - the ultimate tragedy is that however much we love life, we die. Dramatically speaking, life is a tragi-comedy: we laugh, we cry, we live, we die. We are unique among the creatures, not because we will die, but because we know we will die. The birds, too, will die, but they chirp on in their ignorance. Knowledge of our finitude ought to be enough to make us miserable. But it also makes us glad because we know each day is a precious reprieve from non-being. Life is moving, but in its very passage we find our joy in being.

That is the irony of the human condition. We are born, strive mightily to achieve great ends, love deeply, suffer pain bravely - and for what? To die! No, to live! The irony of our human fate is that which has given us greatest joy when it is present, gives us greatest pain when it is absent. Without the joy of life, there is no tragedy in death. Life, I conclude, is a tragedy full of joy.

But the celebration I have in mind is living life as a resounding YES to existence - not despite all the pain and suffering we experience - but with them as a part of the rich mix that makes life meaningful. Without the finality of death, life would be an eternal bore, because we would have it all the time. There would be no sense of urgency to live life with compassion, creativity, and conviction.

No, when I stand at the graveside, hold the hand of a suffering soul, listen to protests at the unfairness of existence, I still believe life is to be celebrated. Without our love for one another, without the joy of human health, without courage in the face of adversity, there would be no tragedy. As the prophet puts it, "the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."

Two weeks ago I saw GeVa Theater's presentation of Ernest Gaine's novel, A Lesson Before Dying, which I have also read - along with the rest of Rochester. It is the tragic story of Jefferson, a young black man in the South of the 1940's falsely accused of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. The young man's god-mother who had raised him, bitterly accepts his fate but wants him to face his execution like a man. He is unlearned, barely articulate, and without hope.

She finally persuades Grant, another young black man - a teacher - to visit him and teach him a "lesson before dying," that he might face his fate with dignity. While Grant is hesitant and resists such a responsibility, he takes it on. There are some fascinating encounters with the local preacher who is more concerned with Jefferson's soul after death, than his spirit during life. Gradually Jefferson discovers the joy in reading and writing - rejoices that there are those who care about him - begins to discover who he is - a person with what Martin Luther King, Jr., would call "somebodiness." He dies with courage and dignity.

It is a heavy play and a heavy novel. Yet there is a subliminal joy in both. Beneath all the injustice of racism there is the determined will to be free. In the face of inevitable death, there is yet something worthwhile in life - however short that life may be. There is - despite the fate that awaits Jefferson - a lesson before dying that is worth learning. His lesson was tragically brief. We are studying that lesson for a lifetime.

And so, Ernest Gaines, while making a powerful statement against racism and against the death penalty, is making an equally powerful statement that no matter what life has in store for us, there are life lessons worth learning.

We do it - we celebrate the joys of this life - in the sure knowledge that our days are numbered. Life, we know, is terminal. None of us will get out of it alive. And that is tragic, is it not? Or is it? Shall we then cease our celebration of life? Or shall we believe with Henry David Thoreau that "Surely joy is the condition of life"? Every day - despite the chirping of birds in the early springtime air, despite the brave little green stalks of crocuses poking their way toward the sun, despite the inevitable roll of the great spinning earth, despite the rhythmic changing of the seasons, despite the lengthening days and the warming sun - every day we are one day closer to our final meeting with fate.

And that would seem to be tragic - the thought of leaving these ecstasies may burden us with the finitude of our lives. But it also is cause for celebration. Spring won't take NO for an answer. While we are here there are delicious morsels of living to taste, and we do ourselves no favors by failing to taste them - we savor them all the more because we know the banquet is not endless.

Life is a tragedy full of joy. Even beneath the dark death of winter we know spring is about to explode. It comes with life and singing and also with the sure death that comes when the seasons cycle around the sun - for summer, fall and winter will follow inexorably.

We, too, will cycle through our seasons of the soul - and one day there will be no more springs for us. But now, spring beckons and we must not miss the chance to celebrate its coming - even though we know our springtimes are numbered. Because we know they do not go on forever, there is all the more reason to rejoice now, to become what I call "cheerleaders of the human spirit."

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  1. this in my opinion is the best piece i have ever read from you... this is a literary trnascription of my thoughts exactly.. it took me a while too to realize that(been like four months now) but since i did, i haven't looked back.!!!! nice read!!! read it it three times already!!!

  2. My first ever comment on your blog - yippee - Wonderful way of reminding all of us of the importance of living in the present and enjoying our lives! Refreshingly so! love it!

    Condolensces to your aunt's friend's family!

    ps. I am so passionate about the issue of reproductive health and its amazing how many people have Cystic ovaries, fibroids, PCOS, amongst many conditions, yet do not have regular OB/GYN visitations. In Ghana it seems as though going to the OB/GYN means u r either pregnant, trying to conceive or hoping to abort!

  3. Life sure needs to be lived. I was listening to a popular speaker the other day and she talked about the seasons in our life(planting, time to grow and the harvest). What I learned was that while you wait for the harvest, there's no need to keep watching for the plant to shoot up. Your's is to live your life and the harvest will happen when it is time. You don't let life pass you by while you wait for something spectacular to happen!

    Very inspirational read :)

  4. My condolences.

    I decided sometime towards the end of last year that I'm going to start living my life. I am making the best of it, especially this summer. Never a dull moment and I am loving it!

  5. I liked a quote by Nana Yaw (Anti Rhythms) on facebook today (apparently part of it was also quoted) he said "If Life is but a dream, then Death is waking up. Rubbish, I'll still choose Life"...I couldn't have agreed with him the more!! C'est la vie

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  7. This has to be your best post Esi. So true and so relevant. We do not have as much time as we think. I will add that to live in the present, we need to forgive ourselves for past mistakes. Spilt milk cannot be gathered. Whiles you are worrying about what you could have done right yesterday, you may have missed the new window God has placed in your path.

    I just took a week long vacation, which I needed desperately. In 2009 I decided to put ME first,and I am doing just that. Nice one.

    10:17 PM EDT

  8. This piece is so refreshing to read. I know i'm a few months too late. But i've decided to comment either way. Thanks for sharing your journey and growth. I am right there, wanting to live the life that i want to live, yet i get a lot of resistance from family, who would prefer i do something else. I have decided to break free of others expectations and live my life, which sounds oddly selfish, yet liberating.

    The question is, how do you live your life* and share that joy with others, family specifically, who would rather you do something else. Because, as liberating as it feels, it saddens me that i have to seperate myself from those who would rather keep me in their box.