Preparing to live?

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive. Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

Today’s challenge irks me. It irks me because I’ve already contemplated having only 15 minutes to live. Besides, in my one strong belief exercise, I’ve already noted that I don’t do much that doesn’t make me come alive.

When I was about 22 years old, I wrote a poem about this. I was dissatisfied with my life as I settled into a 40 hour work week at my first real job with little to no social contact, and a less than stellar roommate. Here’s what I wrote:

Dawning

I am tired.

I lay awake regretting
that I spend vague hours
dancing my survival
instead of playing in the rain.
I feel it in my bones
that I run errands
instead of marathons,
write lists instead of poetry.

I will not allow myself to live marginally any longer.

I will not stand by and let myself be
lulled by practicality –
patiently waiting to be kissed
instead of chasing lovers among the trees.

I cannot feel content where I am
when it means only existence.

I want to live another life
something I won’t let be defined
by anyone’s standards but my own.

When I first read this prompt, it reminded me of the line “dancing my survival”.

Then, I thought about it. I’ve got more than a dozen years on the young woman who wrote this poem. I ran a half marathon, and I run errands. I write lists and poetry. I don’t wait to be kissed, but playing in the rain means soaked clothes and a long hot shower… which is only sometimes worth that payoff.

You know what I do to “prepare to live” you silly author asking this question? I wash clothes to wear next week. I fold towels. I load the dishwasher. I make grocery lists. I follow a budget so I can save up to travel, to have the wedding of my dreams, or to pay off debts.

If I didn’t do these things, ridiculous Mr. Mead, I would be naked, or wearing dirty clothing to the office. I would have no clean dishes, and no food in the house. I would live paycheck to paycheck and wonder where all of my money went. Like most people, I can’t hire underlings to take care of this stuff for me. I mop my own floors and I do my own research.

I have BIG goals, and BIG dreams, bigger than “go, do it now!” sorts of urges, though I frequently have those, too. Most of my goals and dreams take preparation. They take action items, smaller steps that build up to them.

Yesterday, I ran in a duathlon. I ran a 5K, biked 14 miles, and ran another 5k along with a couple hundred other people doing triathlons, duathlons and aquabikes. In my very first race, I’d run this same course, so yesterday I had a time to beat. In the end, I lopped 10 whole minutes off of the time it took me to complete the course. TEN MINUTES. I also set a personal record by coming in 4 minutes faster than my April 30th race.

Did I do that by deciding to live in the now? By writing things on a “to stop” list? No, you moron. I worked my ass off for it. I trained. I ran when I didn’t want to. I biked when it was hot. I showed up and I sweated, and it paid off.

It’s true, I feel truly alive when I’m sweating and working out. It could be said that I’m not preparing to live during those times. But I am indeed preparing for something, and something after that, and something after that.

I’m bothered by this prompt for it’s naivete. I’m bugged because it seems puerile compared to some of the others in this series.

This reminds me of those Facebook quizzes that are obviously written by 14 year olds. “Have you kissed a boy yet? (tee hee!)” And from what I can tell on Twitter and blogs, I am pretty sure that the participants and contributors in this challenge are a tad more self-aware than this post gives us credit for.

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