On the radio, following an anecdote, I heard the question, “what is a life?”
I thought it was a good question. My mind, eventually, conjured eulogies and how people interpret the life of a loved one, how we take our innumerable memories of that person (and usually all their “accomplishments”) and condense what their life was…like taking wet sand and packing it into a pail. The descriptions usually tend toward highlighting the personality, albeit always complimentary; she was the nicest person-everyone loved her, he was a good father-he always made the time to play ball, he was always cracking jokes, she had a thirst for life, he loved his job. Sometimes, when the person in question has led an ‘extraordinary’ life, it is the accomplishments he/she is remembered for.
But most of us don’t lead extraordinary lives.
Most of us are average.
So in the context of average, what is a life?
For most of us, a life isn’t the job we do – that’s just to earn a paycheck to support our real life. If we are fortunate and like or enjoy what we do for a paycheck, then we have have an advantage over our fellow humans, not that life is a contest, but we have additional wet sand for the pail. Because the wet sand is a metaphor for the ‘good’ memories, what we are remembered for by loved ones, our job usually isn’t part of the eulogy. If we can find a way to reap some enjoyment from our employment, we have a quality that transcends into our daily life, it’s a quality that becomes part of the eulogy; optimist, sunny disposition, happy, resourceful. But I think most of us just make the best of a situation that we’d rather not be in, we are at work but we are not present: we day-dream while we work, we plan our next day off.
These circumstances make our real life much more important to us. Spending 40-50 hours of 168 hours in a week, a quarter of the week (sleep accounts for approximately another 25% of our week) leaves us with half of our week – which sounds like a deal but, and I don’t know about you, but I had to get out the calculator because this just didn’t add up to me, that other half of our week is housework, yard work, transportation here and there, events, commitments, appointments, etc, etc. So, the time left over, the “down time”, the time for doing what we enjoy or ‘relaxing’ is much less. I usually spend this down time walking my dogs, reading or some other less-than-stimulating endeavor. (you can probably see why I am a little obsessed with “what is a life”)
Eulogies may not be the best way to search for the meaning of life but it does put a perspective on the question since we all eventually end up without life. Work aside, how do I want to spend my time? I usually think that I am content with how I use my time but, if that’s true, what is the reason for my restlessness spirit? Is contentment enough or am I mis-labeling my feelings, somehow pacifying myself and, if so, why am I doing that?
One thing seems to be true, and “studies show”, it’s important to have ‘someone’ or surrounding yourself with people you love/enjoy and who are supportive. This may be the one, if there is only ‘one’, reason I am eternally seeking an alternative to my current life – I do not have ‘someone’ nor am I part of a network or social group. Let’s put it this way, if my funeral was to be today, my three children would have to cancel it for lack of attendance. There just isn’t anyone who ‘knows’ me. Yes, there are co-workers or some other life acquaintances but I don’t think they’d waste the time attending. This isn’t self-pity, it’s inquiry. Would my life be happier, more fulfilling, more exciting if I had a partner/significant other/spouse/whathaveyou? Or maybe I just need some really good friends? Or a really satisfying job?
What is a life? The answer I’d like to have is: a life is the time we spend doing what we need to do with dignity but also making the most of our creative abilities, experiencing what brings us joy and, yes, contentment. Unbeknownst to me, this ‘definition’ must also include inter-personal relationships with other human beings. I thought I might navigate through life contentedly as a human island. I am wrong.
We all need people, people who support us and help make us the best we can be, people who bring out our best qualities, people who help us connect with our range of emotions and our abilities, people who help us become multidimensional human beings. It’s not that complicated: opening ourselves up to experience the most we can with the best people for us in the short time we have. If we are inspired to become a teacher who helps inform young lives or a geneticist who discovers the cure for Alzheimer’s disease or just the best darn hot dog vendor anyone ever wants to meet, then that is what a life is, a series of thousands of inter-connections to other human beings to create this massive, world-wide web of humanity.
A life doesn’t have to be ‘great’ or full of extraordinary achievements but it does have to have other people to make the experience of living worth remembering.