Thursday, October 13, 2011

Living Half Alive ... or ... On Philosophy

When I was a child, I could never imagine not living life to the fullest at all moments, in all ways. This is not to imply being reckless or careless, but just in that idea of seizing the day.

Somehow though, we seem to lose that joie de vivre as we get older. I have thought a lot about it, and I do not believe it is a matter simply of having responsibilities, of work, of being tired. I think it is a loss of the sense of wonder.

I was inspired to think about this again today -- and to write about it -- by a quote by my mother, artist Karen Laub-Novak. (Her website is here: with a Facebook Fan page here:

Here is the quote:
We too often live out our lives half alive; we may relearn to live our lives with accuracy, excellence, fidelity, intensity…intensity in the small, the ordinary. Intensity in creative knowing and acting.
– Creativity and Children
(You may read the article in its entirety here.)

And here is a lovely photo of me, mom and my brother:

I read a wonderful book as a young adult (it is amazing how, as one gets older, the terms change. When I was in my 20s, I would have considered "young adult" to be 18, maybe 19. Now that I'm older, young adult is most definitely in my 20s...). This book, called "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder (the version I read can be found here -- but it looks like it has been updated and edited, and that version can be found here).

This book is wonderful on many levels, though I will admit it is not "Great Literature" (with air quotes and capitals) -- but as a novel that helps explain the history and details of philosophy it was wonderful -- and also for what it made me think about.

I think my favorite anecdote from the book was a discussion of wonder.

The author notes that if, as a child, you came down the stairs to the kitchen for breakfast, and your mother was floating in the air as she cooked your bacon (or fixed your cereal or whatever it was), you would not think twice -- as a child. For as a child, you still have a sense of wonder, a sense of the impossible is possible. A sense that impossible does not really exist for that matter. So of course mama can float as she makes breakfast. Why not?

As an adult, you would walk into that kitchen, scream and probably faint. Or simply not see it, because it is simply not acceptable. It is, in fact, impossible. After all, you now know all the rules of what is possible, of gravity, of science, of facts, of reality.

In a similar fashion, a friend once posted on Facebook about watching her children play -- how they had pulled stools together, covered them with a quilt, and were now standing on those stools, quivering with fear about the "sharks swimming around their island". She asked, "Remember when we had that sort of imagination?"

Yet that is the question. Not what she asked exactly, but a variation on it. "Why can we not have that sort of imagination as adults?" Why must we lose touch with our sense of wonder, our sense of the impossible?

Why must we become obsessed with, focused upon, trapped by our understanding of the rules, of what is possible, of science, of facts, of reality?

This is not to say one should go spend their life tripping the light fantastic and ignoring basic responsibilities and requirements of well, life. It is simply to encourage remembering the sense of wonder and impossibility.

To remember what it is like to splash in puddles, and sing in the rain. To declare a Dorothy Parker day more often than not. To breathe the air a bit more deeply, and exhale a bit more slowly. To look at a beautiful day, and say life is too short to spend it inside.

My grandfather always used to say:
Prepare every day as if you are going to live forever;
Live every day as if you are going to die tomorrow.

I know lots of people have said similar things throughout the ages. Such as the classic:
Live every day as if it were your last...because someday you're going to be right.

All of those types of quotes are important for a reason -- because they are accurate. We spend so much time, energy, and emotion slogging our way through life. Consider the Dalai Lama quote that spread like wildfire around Facebook recently:
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, said:

"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

I will admit that many of these quotes are bleak -- they accurately sum up the present situation, and the negatives and consequences of this situation, but they do not necessarily offer hope for the future, or suggestions.

I am, of course, biased, but that is why I love my mother's quote. To remind you:
We too often live out our lives half alive; we may relearn to live our lives with accuracy, excellence, fidelity, intensity…intensity in the small, the ordinary. Intensity in creative knowing and acting.
– Creativity and Children

She gives hope, and a solution. We may relearn to live our lives, we just must learn to live with intensity in the small, in the ordinary, in creative knowing and acting. In other words, we must embrace creativity, we must embrace childlike wonder, we must embrace the impossible and make it the possible.

We do not all have to live as the Dalai Lama, or even as great adventurers or leaders or wise men and women, or celebrities. We simply have to live as ourselves. Truly ourselves. Well, perhaps ourselves with a bit of childhood mixed back in.

So let us all make that vow now: to embrace childhood again, imagination, possibility, wonder....

To embrace living fully; living every day to its most; living every day as if we're going to die tomorrow....

For some day, we will all be right.

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