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Life is for the Living

Age brings losses and perspective I guess. Today ,when laid eyes on this, I saw only blessings. After all these years, I am sane enough to notice that none of us is perfect; 'we trust our instincts as we fight our daily fights, some we win, some we don’t-but some we will only know in time. But we live each night and day hopeful that today's sacrifices have worth it—that our instincts haven't led us astray, we do our best because this journey is worth our best—dare to be. There are people in our lives who discourage us from pursuing our dreams, often because they have given up on theirs. Ironically, you have to smack them awake by becoming a ray of hope to them as you move on with yours. People need to see the forest through the trees. Don’t confuse motion with progress. A 'rocking' horse keeps moving but doesn’t make any progress.

In his book, Man's Search for meaning, Viktor Frankl writes:
everything can be taken from a man but one,the last of human freedoms, to choose one's way in any given set of circumstances.
Basically, at my youthful age, I think I have lived through enough challenges, hopelessness and deceit from this cruel world to know those are some of the most beautiful words I have read, although they are from the story about an incarceration camp experience, the profound truth is:we all go through hell.This might sound like a merely convenient – and sentimental – thing to say. But it is soberly true and the proof lies in an area we know very well: literature. Novels are stories of other people that we don’t mind hearing; because they are also, at their best, stories that teach us about ourselves. The reason why so-called great writers are interesting to listen to (even when they talk about themselves) is that they have mastered the trick of teasing out from their experiences what is Universally Relevant from what is Locally Specific.

We have been taught to fear, to feel we are not enough, to succumb to the whims of society and lose our voice in this world: that’s not what you ought to do, you were not sent here to be just a follower, lead too. Be meek, all the time, but don’t be a rag for someone, have your seat, bring your ideas to the table, make someone listen, that’s why you were sent here in this world, not be a slave to someone else’s hostility but to be you, to be a voice on your own and if you can, for someone who shares your plight: that’s the essence of being.

You may need an anthem to keep you in shape, you may need something to keep you in perspective, all you have to remember is just one thing, to be you: We cannot change the presence of an enemy, but we can change what an enemy means to us: these figures can shift from being devoted, impartial agents of the truth about one’s right to exist to being – more sanely – people who have an opinion, probably only ever a bit right, about something we once did, and never about who we are (that is something only we decide).

An inner voice was always once an outer voice that we have – imperceptibly – made our own. We’ve absorbed the tone of a kind and gentle caregiver, who liked to laugh indulgently at our foibles and had endearing names for us. Or else the voice of a harassed or angry parent; the menacing threats of an elder sibling keen to put us down; the words of a schoolyard bully or a teacher who seemed impossible to please.

And certainly we end succumbing to the pressures of this background noise; we forget to do the most important thing for the moment, to recite ourselves a phrase like this one that I have found handy: ‘Kings and philosophers shit and so do ladies’. A helpful reminder that everyone who intimidates us is, at heart, very much like us in their underlying vulnerabilities. And therefore not really so frightening at all.

Here is the catch, be a warm person. But there’s another – more realistic and more important – vision of what a good man is like that’s (comparatively) been given very much less attention and creative encouragement. This is the very opposite of the cool man, what we call: the warm man.

The warm man does not put out many fires by himself. He hasn’t killed anyone either. He is, instead, very much alive to his own anxiety. He would drop the gun and would tell you quite candidly he had done so. What is distinctive, and admirable, is his relationship to his anxiety. He is aware of it, honest about it, funny with it – and yet not overwhelmed by it. The warm man has a good sense of how demented and fragile we all are. So he goes out of his way to reassure, to be forgiving and to be gentle. He has tried very hard, at times, to get things to work out better for himself but it frequently hasn’t worked. The warm man has known many sorrows: he has done stupid things, he has lost people he loved, he has made daft decisions. His weaknesses have made him immensely generous to others.

When the waiter spills the cocktail, the warm hero laughs (he has spilled a few himself) and leaves a generous tip if he can. When he forgets someone’s name (which he does quite often) the warm hero is ashamed but frank and says – sincerely – ‘I’m really sorry, and very embarrassed, but it’s slipped my mind… forgive me, help me out…’. When they’ve messed up at work, the warm person admits it, feels sorry, openly apologizes and explains as best he can what actually went wrong and how he might be put it right in future.The essence of the warm man is vulnerability well-handled; he is conscious of his flaws and failings but uses this knowledge to become interestingly humorous and a rich source of sympathy for the secret troubles of every life he encounters.

Montaigne, the popular essayist – in the 16th century he wrote candidly about his fears of impotence, his tendency to belch at inopportune moments, and his love for his father; he was filled with self-doubt (his favorite phrase was ‘what do I know?’) and was ashamed of, and yet honest about, his own blunders, laziness and lack of career success.

The Last word: Make a mark, do not leave a scar. I would be the last person to toot my own horn because surely, what i have learned through the years is this universal truth: all of us—every one of us—has the opportunity to serve, even in the midst of personal heartache


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