"Life is a concept, not a reality." -- Ferris Jabr
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
What does it mean to be alive? Is it breath? Growth? A steady succession of thoughts, feelings or actions? Scientists have no definite answer to the question. They say life is a process, not just a specific collection of materials. Bacteria, plants and humans all demonstrate radically different ways of being alive. So the question comes back to you: How do you define life? In many ways, the answer will come to define you.
For me, there is a dramatic difference between thriving and just surviving: life abundant and mere existence. There have been low moments in my life when I felt like I was slowly dying, just wasting away. Yes I had a pulse, but my potential felt untapped. The struggle for beauty, strength and truth left dormant while I drifted into the grey, meaningless tedium of the clock. "That he not busy being born is busy dying."
These low moments contrast sharply with the times in life when I feel invigorated, fulfilled, and hopeful. These are the moments when I come alive. Think back to a moment in time when you felt more fully alive than ever. You feel a certain spark in the air, as if the sun has come out from behind the clouds and your heart is beating for the very first time. Think back to your first kiss, or the first day of school. Are your palms sweaty? Your body tense? Your eyes wide? The colors in the air are unlike anything you've ever seen?
I suppose what I'm talking about here is a qualitative element of living -- abundant life, not just a pulse. You'd think this higher quality of life would be found among the fortunate few -- the good looking, talented, folks with some cash to spend. Ironically, this abundance of life is rarely found in the places I would expect to find it. Laughter, joy, purpose, calling -- I tend to find it in unexpected places.
I think back to some of the most generous people I've ever met. I have found more often the poor are much more generous than the rich. And, the same with the healthy - two friends of mine with the best dispositions are fighting cancer. And the same goes with the perspective of the blind, or the wisdom of mentally handicapped, the courage of the weak.... the list goes on and on. My friend Jeremy doesn't have the use of his legs anymore and yet, his indomitable spirit refuses to quit. He surfs, he climbs mountains, he road-bikes - all without the use of his legs. Even in his wheelchair, my friend Jeremy has more mobility, traction, and drive than almost anyone I know. He lives life to the full: unencumbered with the obstacles and risks at hand.
Because life is a gamble. It's an enormous risk to enter into this world, to leave the womb and take a breath. But here we are -- the risk takers. The Living. The loving, risking, hopeful community of humans, breathing this air somewhere between the womb and the grave. We might have our eyes on the infinite, and yet we are bound to the present tense. Our lives are found only in this specific moment, only in this present passage of time. And in our mortality, we find that any of our greatest moments come only at a cost. There is risk involved. To love is to risk. To fight for what you believe in is a risk. To dare to change yourself or the world around you -- it requires a commitment beyond the risk.
Everyone has excuses, but I've found that my excuses make for lousy stories. My favorite stories to tell are the ones filled with both my bold failures and successes -- laughable attempts to get to places just beyond my reach. When we come alive we are stretched to become more than we were. When we come alive we are thankful for what we have. When we come alive we are bold in our love. When we come alive we gain a perspective that was lacking before. Because life is both a choice and a gift -- we seek after it and it comes to us.
The meaning of life... Maybe it varies for all of us. But if the meaning of life cannot be answered by the scientists or the philosophers, then it's up to the rest of us to define what it means to be alive. We, the living, answer that question every day -- not with our words, but with our lives. Let us show what life means to us with our actions. Dreaming and hoping and reaching forward - we live our lives in the present, wide-eyed and expectant. Is life a dream? If it is, it's a dream yet unrealized. The depths of this life have yet to be found. The highest peaks, the furthest reaches. Maybe abundant life has yet to happen. What does it look like when we come alive? Let's find out.