Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Live and Die

I got to thinking recently about one of my favorite quotes in life, as, yes, it is one of the few quotes that I have loved since I was a young child up until today. It was and is that powerful and meaningful to me.

It was actually one of my Grandfather Novak's favorite sayings:
Prepare every day as if you are going to live forever;
Live every day as if you are going to die tomorrow. 
It has a lovely lyricism to it -- and yes, for those of you who think it sounds vaguely familiar, it is very like one of Mahatma Gandhi's famous sayings:
Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever. 
That said, and with all due respect to Mr. Gandhi, I prefer my grandfather's version. Not just because I'm related to him, but I find the sense of "preparation" very practical, down-to-earth, grounded. And I am nothing but practical.

Interestingly enough though, it has taken me years to truly understand and decipher this saying. It seems obvious, doesn't it? What it means, what it's preaching, what it's encouraging. Yet I only just recently realized that I had been misinterpreting it my entire life.

As to me, the saying had always been straightforward: it was just another way to say "Carpe Diem!" "Sieze the Day!"

Just another way to emphasize that while one can't be foolish and fritter (what a great word "fritter" is -- seriously, it ought to be used more often in every day language) one's life away, one also can't spend all of one's life doing nothing but thinking of the future. One must plan ahead, but one must also live life to it's fullest.

Every. Single. Day.

Frankly, that interpretation rather exhausted me -- stressed me out even. As I wasn't so sure I was "seizing" every day "fully". God knows I wasn't saving the world, or traveling like a vagabond, or even cheerful and embracing life -- Every. Single. Day.

Hell no. And for emphasis: H. E. L. L. No.

Many days, I am actually hiding under a blanket on my couch, ignoring my cell phone and home phone and emails and, yes, even ignoring life passing me by. And I am happy as a clam. Seriously.

Assuming clams are happy or even can be happy. As really -- has any one ever had interaction with a clam? Interviewed it about it's emotional state? But I digress.... 

So, by any application of my original definition of this delightful -- nay, profound -- saying, I was a failure. No making excuses, no going back, no crossing the finish line triumphant. Epic fail, indeed.


But that's the amazing thing about getting older -- that is, if there actually is anything amazing about getting older. Truth is though, I will admit -- publicly even! -- that there are a few things pretty darn cool about getting older, and one of the most important is getting wiser. It's shocking what a few years of experience and maturity can produce. Sometimes something very close to wisdom. But shhhh. Don't let any one else know.

Getting back to my point -- yeah, yeah, I like irrelevant tangents; mostly because at least I find them relevant -- what does all this mean? It means I realized that this saying must not only be interpreted individually by each person as they see it, but also each day individually.

Certainly living each day as if you're going to die tomorrow means living each day to its fullest, seizing the day, carpe whatever! But how you live the day to its fullest, how you "seize" it, is entirely up to you.

It does not mean you have to jump on a plane to Timbuktu today, or even jump out of plane. It doesn't mean you have to hit the slopes or the road or your best friend (who may have serious problems with you hitting them, just sayin'...). It doesn't even mean you need to read a good book or watch a good movie or do anything at all. In fact, sometimes it could mean doing absolutely nothing at all.

What I have come to realize -- in my ever so humble (snicker, snort) opinion -- is that living every day as if you're going to die tomorrow means living each day so that you do not regret it.

Since the reasons and definitions and causes of regret are so varied, that means that how to live each day is also correspondingly varied. Some days it may mean booking that plane to Timbuktu; some days it may mean hiding under a blanket and doing nothing at all. I've done the equivalent of both recently, and I promise you, I have no regrets. (Which, as my brother will attest, is shocking, shocking I tell ya.)

In my mother's eulogy that I re-printed yesterday, I talked about life "lived well and well lived". My mother was not unique, special or different. She had her good days and her bad days. She was frustrating, annoying, loveable, funny. Like all the rest of us. But she hit the goal that I think my grandfather's saying encapsulates: she had a life lived well and well lived.

Now that's not a bad way for the world to end, is it? Though it does seem awfully more like a bang than a whimper under those circumstances, eh?

And that's not a bad lesson: that if you prepare each day as if you're going to live forever, than you'll live life well, and if you live each day as if you're going to die tomorrow, then your life will be well lived. Oh, and of course your life will end with a bang, not a whimper. Figuratively that is.

"Figuratively", I would like to be a princess in a Disney fairy tale.... But that would just be another irrelevant tangent again....

What is not "figuratively" -- nor an irrelevant tangent, for that matter -- is that it is up to me -- to you, to all of us: To live, to prepare, to decide how. How to live and die is up to us. It is no one's business, choice, or dominion, but our own. And that most certainly is control, and most certainly is a bang.

As Grandpa said, many a time:
Prepare every day as if you are going to live forever;
Live every day as if you are going to die tomorrow. 
And I continue to try to do exactly that....

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