I wonder when I’ll learn. I mean really learn. We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. But I wonder when I’ll finally start to believe it. I wonder when it will finally click – not for a moment, a day or a month, but for real. I wonder when it will become a lifestyle choice that sticks as opposed to the diet that I only do for a short period of time. I recognize the cliché, but I wonder when it will finally, I mean finally, hit me: Life is short.
When I was a junior in high school, my friend Alvin was murdered by his cousin. He was a sophomore. When I was a junior in college, my dear friend Linda died in a rafting accident. Another friend lost his brother a few years later. My young neighbor died from leukemia. That’s only a partial list. How many reminders do I actually need?
Life is short. Life is short. Life is short. With every single one of these tragic deaths, that mantra was repeated. Perspective was gained. And then lost. Motivation was found and action was taken. And then sadly not so much.
I got a haircut recently. Instead of the usual, politically incorrect topics of conversation, my friend and I talked about his 51-year old buddy who died from a sudden heart attack earlier that week. Although I didn’t know the father-of-four, he was by all (and I mean ALL) accounts was an incredible man. A truly lovely man. The kind of man whose loss causes entire communities to mourn. And there’s the reminder again. Life. Is. Short. It just is. So here I am again wondering will I finally believe it?
The thing is that I’m convinced I do believe it. I think many of us believe it. Maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t believe it. Maybe the problem is that I don’t know what it means to believe it. What are we, WHAT AM I, supposed to do when we believe that life is, indeed, short? How is it that we’re supposed to act? What exact actions are we expected to take?
Years ago, I was living in Florida when a friend’s cousin was killed on TWA Flight 800. It didn’t take me long to pack my bags and move back to the west coast. I wasn’t happy in Florida. Is that what it means to believe that life is short? You refuse to live in situations that make you unhappy? What if you ARE happy, though? Does it then mean we’re supposed to take the risk we’ve been afraid of taking? We all have one of those, don’t we? I know I do.
Maybe that’s my problem. By restricting the “life is short” definition/reaction to one that assumes I have to jump off the cliffs, I sometimes feel like I’m failing in my beliefs. I feel like death – especially the unexpected kind – requires us to act with big, meaningful changes in life. And if we don’t, we’re not honoring those who passed. We’re not honoring the very life is short mantra that we repeat ad nauseam. But it’s not always possible to make the throw-all-caution-to-the-wind-decisions because, “F*ck it. Life is short.”
I think I’ve done reasonably well at taking risks in my life. I’ve quit jobs. I’ve moved across the country. I’ve started my own companies. But I know that deep down (or maybe even not so deep down) I sometimes don’t take the big leaps. The kind where you push all of your chips to the center of the table. The kind where you put it all on red. The kind that requires faith (in any variety of forms). And I recognize I’m not being totally fair to myself (or am I just making an excuse?). There are life realities and responsibilities that need to be met. It’s not like I can just drop it all and become a Cirque performer (if, you know, that’s what I wanted to do).
So there has to be a happy medium. If the balls-out belief that life is short means I quit my job, sell the house, buy an Airstream and take the family on the road full time … well, maybe I need to give that dream a little haircut. If that’s REALLY the dream, maybe the life is short lesson means I can start with simply learning to tow.
My challenge has always been one of zero to 100. When big life events happen, I sometimes tend to floor it. I feel like everything needs to change 180 degrees in 180 seconds. I respond emotionally. It’s understandable; death is emotional. It forces us to take stock. And there’s the real rub. I have to make sure that I do take stock. Honestly. Fairly. I have to make sure that I’m not using “life is short” as an excuse. It’s easy to do, but it isn’t authentic. Decisions made in that space won’t be properly executed. They won’t generate any real follow through. And they won’t last.
Life. Is. Short. I know it. We all know it. We all say it. I beat myself up if I feel like I’m not living on the edge enough. And yet, I don’t really even know what that means! While it’s, no doubt, different for everyone, if I really believe it, the best I can do is to honor myself and live as true to myself as I can. I haven’t always done that, but I’m trying. I’m really trying to do that.
After all … Life is short.