This morning’s offering is a response to a wonderful blog post, here, written by Susan Lanigan. In it, she discusses her reasons for choosing to live – not just continuing to live, but actually making the choice to live – despite the difficulties which this choice can bring. I’m very pleased that she asked me to share my thoughts on the topic, and I hope I can do her marvellous post justice.
I’ll begin with a truism: life can be very hard. This nugget has been trotted out by generations of mothers and fathers in an attempt to comfort their tear-stained children when they reach the age at which they realise the world is not designed to fulfil their every wish; it is not comforting, but it is important to know. Life (or, rather, the choice to live) can, and probably will, be very hard for the majority of people, and life has been hard as long as human beings have existed. Every age has had its own particular struggles, which vary with the centuries, but they all have similar roots. I think, despite the differences in technology, lifestyle, beliefs, language and law that separate us from our ancestors, that people are people – we don’t change much, down through the years. The things which occupy our minds and the fears that bedevil us – mortality, sexuality, money, power – are things which they were all too familiar with, too. I’m not sure it’s true that earlier ages didn’t have time for introspection, or that they were too busy working themselves to an early death to worry about things like self-actualisation and individual significance; I think every age has sought meaning in its own existence, and has produced art which has reflected upon the world which created it. We are no exception – we just have wider access to the tools of creativity, and our record of our own existence is a bit more durable than that of earlier generations. In times gone by, only the chosen few had the opportunity to record their thoughts about the world around them. Sometimes I mourn for all the words and stories we’ve lost, and for all the wisdom that has returned to the earth along with the person who laboured hard to gain it.
I live in a complex world, in a struggling country. I have a body and a brain which sometimes conspire against me, and I know how it feels to fight with your own thoughts, to battle out from underneath your own darkness of mind. I have been in the pit of what my medieval friends used to call ‘wanhope’ – in other words, despair. Allowing yourself to wallow in wanhope was seen as a sin in the Middle Ages, because it did not allow for the grace of God; falling into it was one thing, but allowing yourself to remain there was tantamount to giving up hope in the all-powerful love of God. It was like committing treason against your greatest and most powerful liege-lord. You were cutting off the possibility of being rescued, of being helped, and you were refusing to allow yourself to be loved by God – and, I suppose, by anyone else. The medieval mind saw it as imposing a limit on the power of God’s love and compassion (which, of course, would be sinful human hubris), but a modern mind might recognise the feeling, too. Divorced from its religious framework, it sounds a lot like the struggle most of us have to face at some point in our life – the feeling that we are alone, that we’re unconnected to anything else, that nobody loves us and our existence, or lack of it, makes no difference to the grand scheme of things. It sounds so terrible that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would allow themselves to fall into it, but it’s actually not that difficult. The road to the pit of wanhope has been walked by so many feet that the stones which pave it have been worn smooth, and it’s a road from which so many people find it impossible to come back. Sadly, I wonder if the road to Wanhope is busier now than it has ever been.
So, why do I choose to live? The word ‘choose’ is so important – nobody can make you live. You were brought into existence, sure – but nobody can force you to live. The choice is yours. It might seem obvious – it might not seem like a choice at all, perhaps – but it’s there, and it’s one which we need to make on a regular basis. Why do I choose, every day, to avoid the road to despair and choose the harder, rockier, narrower path that is life? I choose to live because I want to make a difference in the world. I want to be part of that durable human record – I want my choice to mean something, and I don’t want my hard-earned wisdom to die with me. I choose to live because I was brought into the world through love, and I have been lucky enough to know love every day of my life. I choose to live because I want to amplify the love I have been given, and return it tenfold to those who love me, and to others who might need love and compassion more than they need anything else. I choose to live because it’s a challenge, and I’m the sort of pig-headed person who hates to give up on a fight. I choose to live because I believe I’m here to do something – perhaps, many somethings. I choose to live because I don’t know what I’m here to do, and I don’t know when I’ll be called upon to do it. How can I choose the other path, the one that leads towards the dark, when, for all I know, tomorrow is the day when my great purpose will be revealed? How do I know that my very existence – something I might say, or do, or write – is already fulfilling that greater purpose? I choose to live because my choice might help someone else. I choose to live because I am important, as you are important; my choice might help someone else to keep walking that hard road, and I choose to live because everyone who makes that choice means more hands to help those who might stumble, and more encouraging smiles to light the paths of those who are struggling.
I’ve walked a while on both roads, the smooth lower road that feels so familiar underfoot, and the rocky higher path that goes on into the unknown. The smooth road has no turnings. Its destination is clear. But the rocky path has many switchbacks and changes of direction – every day on it is a surprise, and every corner turned brings something new. I choose to live because I want to know what’s around the next bend, no matter what it is. I choose to live because I’ve struggled out of the pit, and back up that smooth and well-worn path, and I’ll be damned if I’m throwing away all that effort.
I choose to live out of stubbornness, and I hope my rocky path is a long and twisting one.