From the Editor

¡Salud, amor y pesetas, y tiempo para disfrutarlos!

How do we know that we are alive? Living and existing are not the same.  At what point are we living and when simply existing – what is the difference? 

Sitting in the waiting room for the intensive care unit, I met a family which had gathered together to say good-by, to a man who the day before, had celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday.  He was now connected to a series of machines which were keeping him alive, for lack of a better word.  His family had decided that the man was no longer living, simply having air pushed through his lungs by a ventilator, which kept his heart beating.  They had been told that by flicking a switch, the machines would be turned off and their loved one would die

It was not an easy choice.  I watched them a good long while.  I had taken note of them the day before, and now as they had made their peace, repeatedly saying that he would not want to subsist this way, they had decided to ultimately leave it in God’s hands.  They waited for everyone to arrive, they cried together, and held one another, before picking up their things, awkwardly acknowledging the rest of the waiting room, and collectively going off to say their final good-by. 

 I had spoken, at great length, to one of the daughters the day before.  She assured me that her father had been a very active man, who was full of life – ah that word – life!  He was no longer full of life, rather he was hardly living, she said.  Her father, she was certain, would not want to live like this, how could they leave him in such a state?  I had no answers for her.  I would not want to exist indefinitely in such a state.  Good vital signs were not enough to define life, no matter what anyone said. 

Over the years, I have met quite a few people in hospital waiting rooms, but this particular family left a deep and lasting impression, because they continually came back to the same point – no matter what any doctor said, their loved one was no longer living. 

 Living is filled with hope and possibility, while existing is simply being, and there is a difference between the two states, which does not necessarily have anything to do with finding yourself in a hospital bed, attached to machines. 

At the end of life, inevitably comes death.  What happens after death is for another discussion, but while on earth what we have is this journey; and I believe that we each hold a sacred commitment to make the journey matter. 

I have been thinking a lot about how we define life, and no I am not weighing in on the abortion debate.  Rather, my question is perhaps even more philosophical, if that can be possible.  The very word – life – for me implies joy and excitement!  Life is something we celebrate.  We congratulate new parents on the birth of their child, we wish each other a Happy Birthday, and we thank God when someone recovers from a life threatening illness or survives a dangerous situation like a car accident – all because of life!  Intrinsically, we believe that life is a precious gift, thus we honor the very notion of life; but are we the living truly making the most of the life we have been given?  Are we living or existing?   

Inevitably, the quality of life seems to come into play, when we attempt to decipher the mystery of living verses existing.  I think life should be savored, we must enjoy the moments we are given, and make the most of each day.  Yet are we?  What does it mean to savor life?  To enjoy our life to its fullest?  Is it simply never getting off the merry-go-round?  Or is there more to it than making sure you never have an empty entry in your date book?  How do we know we are alive? 

 For many, being happy is the gage used to measure the quality of life.  So what does make us happy?  ¡Salud, amor y pesetas, y tiempo para disfrutarlos!  Is a Spanish toast wishing you health, love, money, and time to enjoy these gifts. 

How often have you heard someone say, if they simply had more money, all of their problems would be resolved and life would suddenly be worth living?  Okay, money does make certain things easier, like paying your bills; but if money were the root of happiness and thus the measure of life, would there ever be an unhappy person of means?  Would rich people then not take their life, or use alcohol or antidepressants to deal with their pain, or would they never complain of sadness or angst?  Anyone who has ever spent five minutes in a grocery store check out line knows that being rich does not make people happy and eliminate all of their problems.

What about good health?  It seems rather obvious that how we physically feel makes a difference in the quality of our life.  Yet, think about it.  If we say people who struggle with health issues are depressed or sad, should it not then be that those who are healthy are happy?  Chronic pain and disease does cause one to feel unwell, but a lack of pain or disease does not seem to necessarily negate sorrow.  Once again, the same check out line or the evening news will quickly enlighten you to perfectly healthy people who instead of choosing life chose death.  Why?

Love, that very powerful word which people often fear to be the first to say, how important is love?  I would argue that life is not worth living without love.  We need to know that we matter to other people and we need people to love; yet, how many people do we each know that are loved and still unhappy?  How often do those same check-out counter headlines brazening detail the suicide of someone who was adored by their parents, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and community? 

We are left with time – the one thing none of us can truly control, and which impacts us all the same.  There is not enough time.  Adam and Eve will certainly have to answer for destroying our nice long lives on earth, among other things.  Our journey on earth is finite, and nothing we can do will change that.  The final destination is death, thus the journey must matter.  In the end, we die; and that is something we must accept in order to make the life we have matter.  We only have so much time to do what we are going to do, and the more those hours tick away, the less time we are left. 

As we get older, so many of us begin to feel that there is not enough time or energy to complete our to do list – there is no point in going back to school, or starting that business or planning that trip or becoming a parent or making a move . . . or learning to paint!  I will not be able to keep up with the new demands, I cannot afford the cost, my mind and body are not what they once were . . . yes, it may all be true; but I would argue that it does not matter. 

Time we cannot stop.  We should enjoy our youth, and be brave and daring – taking a few chances that we will not take later on in life; but youth is relative, because next year we will be older still.  What are you doing now?  What do you wish that you were doing?  What have you been afraid to do?  What are you putting off for tomorrow?  

I believe that the quality of our life is defined by what we do with our life.  Imagine walking into a crowded restaurant, with over stuffed, buffet tables dominating the landscape, an enormous “Specials” menu, an omelet station, raw bar, and being offered a printed menu, once you sit down.  No matter what you eat, it is one price – one life time that is it, that is all we are going to get.  So are you ordering meatloaf, off the menu, or are you going to walk around the restaurant and sample it all?  Forget about what the other people in your party are going to eat.  (Why do we always ask each other what we are going to order in restaurants?)  What do you want?  Perhaps most of what you try will not please you, so what.  You might overeat, so what.  Maybe you will end up with a stomach ache, so what.  Feast! 

Feast, and bring back an extra plate for those too timid to stand in the pastry line twice, or ask for roast beef and lamb chops, or nervous about what tripe might be!  This is it, the one chance we get to live this life.  Do not stand on the side lines waiting for the line to go down; it is not going down – go stand in line.  Get engaged with life and what matters to you, there is no time to wait.  What have you always dreamed of doing?  What would you like to change in yourself or in the world?  How do you want to make this world a better place?  What do you want to live for?  What is worth dying for?  What are you wishing for?  Failure is inevitable, as is heartache and headache, life comes with sorrow, and happiness is not a birthright. My father rarely corrected us that was my mother’s job.  I remember him yelling at Joy and I to go bed, when we were five, and him talking with me about someone he disapproved of, in my life, and being upset that I had ordered a club sandwich at Denny’s.  Yes, a club sandwich stirred him to tell me that I should try something different – we often lived on the road, while I was growing up, and often frequented Denny’s – I guess I had ordered one too many club sandwiches. 

On so many levels my parents would have failed a Dr. Benjamin Spock class on parenting, but the one thing which they both did was live their life on their own terms, using up every ounce of life they were given.  They took chances, and yes made many foolish choices, but despite lack of money, poor health, children, responsibilities, fear, and a long list of other issues they lived the life they wanted and made it matter – they did not simply exist. 

Make today count.  Once this day has passed it truly is over, so do not waste it.  Live today, enjoy this day, enrich your life and the life of someone else, experience this day and make a lasting memory of this moment.  Step outside and feel the pounding sun, smell the blooming flowers, listen to the birds chirping, speak to a stranger, call an old friend, order something wild and strange off the menu! 

When you go to bed tonight know that you lived, and not that you simply existed.  That is all for now.

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2 Responses to From the Editor

  1. Anonymous on August 13, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    “Despite” children?

  2. ThatIsAllForNow on January 3, 2013 at 1:06 am

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