“Life is short, but the days and nights are long.”
Today is one of those mid-winter days in which you can’t recall when you last saw the sun, and the damp, grey afternoon is distinguished only by occasional raindrops disturbing puddles that have taken residence outside my window. These are, they tell us, the shortest days of the year, but too many seem cold and hollow, and the nights, indeed, so long.
At this point in the season, family gatherings are gone and forgotten, with children scattered to the four corners and to lives and children of their own. Even football, for those so inclined, is only a memory, though it may have seemed important at the time.
With the business of life at ebb, days like this may provoke one to ponder what they should mean when you string them all together and reflect on life and its meaning. There are so many answers, and none seem complete. The best that Rousseau and Tolstoy seemed to offer was to “tend your garden”, in a figurative and perhaps literal way. Religion satisfies many, although Marx had a bit of a point in describing it as an opiate.
Pop culture often offers enigmatic or simply shallow answers. One of the best comes from a scene in the movie, City Slickers:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you have to find out.
In a more serious vein, Emerson once wrote:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
There is an Internet page from years ago, but still available, that offers examples of the claim that many complicated things in life can be distilled into “Two Things”. Here is one example, which as a lawyer, I can say is a bit too true:
The Two Things about Practicing Law in the Real World:
1. Billable hours.
2. Deep pockets.
For what passes as fun, as the rain takes command and punctuates this afternoon with thunder, I took a shot at what might be the two things about life. Here is my offer:
- Remember to breathe. For a few of us, and more in times of stress, this is not flippant advice, so take it. For many others though, you can interpret it figuratively as a reminder to live in the moment.
- Have a reason to continue. Consider why you add value to “life” in the larger context. That may not be “one thing” or even two, but if you haven’t taken time to consider your place in the bigger picture of things, you probably aren’t experiencing life in any meaningful way.
I don’t mean to pontificate and have spent more than a little time this season considering my second point without any definitive answer. Today, simply seemed like a good time to share the question, because life can well be short.