There is life, even Life. And there is living, even Living. But neither of these – life and living in either capital form or not – are necessarily related to each other. To have Life does not mean you are living, unless you are also truly Living. I have been coming to this conclusion over and over again this past year. I am 41, and I have been living, but I am pretty sure I have forgotten what it means to be Living. Or to put in the modern vernacular, then consider Daredevil on Netflix:
Matt Murdoch: I’m not afraid of dying.
Priest: A lot of people aren’t when it comes right down to it. It’s living that scares the holy crap out of them.
Trust me, I have not been afraid to checkbox off a lot of living. 5 earned degrees, 4 of these conferred and 3 of those Masters of Science in engineering-physics, technical japanese, and applied computational mathematics. I’ve lived abroad multiple times, and traveled abroad even more times. I’ve ate and drank my way through cities, countries and even cultures. But I am not sure I’ve ever known Home even if I was home. I’ve been involved in large, well-known projects including Boeing’s 787 program, Microsoft’s Xbox One, and Amazon e-commerce. Throw in a handful of shared patents, too. Heck, as an overachiever I have been divorced twice, and now happily married for a third time. Yeah, that is a life, but is it Life? Sure, I’ve been living and even making a living, but is it Living? What am I truly afraid of? Because it is sure as hell not dying – not anymore, not really ever. What am I afraid of? Isn’t it obvious? I have been checkbox-living because I have been afraid of Living. And now I fear living another 30 or 40 years only to end up still not having Lived. You following?
But how do you stop living and begin Living? By answering the essential existential question. It’s the only existential question, really. The question, of course, being: What is Life? Hmm. Yes, I agree with you. It is a child’s question that we leave behind in adulthood, having learned it to be too immense a wall to scale. So we stumble away from it, instead picking up our latest handheld device to read a wall of posts. And those posts, this post even, don’t answer much of anything at best, and at worst a whole lot of nothing. Still, we post about a myriad of life’s doings in the hopes we are heard. So that question – The Question – comes to us without any seeming answer, and we yield in mute response.
I cannot speak for you, so please forgive me any generalities. Let me step back into my own living, my own life and tell you how I got here: I have spent four decades hanging my coat and hat on someone else’s pegs. I looked for recognition in my father, my mother, my family, my friends and even my managers and colleagues at work. I counted the number of reads and likes of posts, and I amassed my degrees and my accolades like Smaug hoarding treasure. I got rid of all the mirrors inside of me, and instead hung you all up on my walls to tell me how pretty I am. I am pretty, right? I put down my pencil. Then my pen. Then my brush. Then finally my words. I burned them or else tucked them away, up on bookcases and in boxes. Then finally I went to sleep in this den of my own making, unwittingly having cut myself off from the rest of the world to await the footfall of my own doom. I had no idea what I had done, since living and Living seemed to be the same thing until now, when I see ahead to another four decades spent cowering under the weight and banality of that kind of living. What remains around me is all baubles now, having no hold nor charm over me. What was once an immeasurable treasure is now worth very little other than to be melted down and hammered into a key to open a door, a door to Living.
So yes, I’ve been a coward. I never realized that I already had all the wealth I ever needed. But it was not the kind of wealth I knew to look for. I looked outward, and so became blinded to who I am. A beautifully imperfect human. More so, I’m a beautifully imperfect brother, son, friend, colleague and spouse. I only ever really needed what I was born with. This soul given a Life so that I might pluck, feather by feather, the quills to write my own story for myself to read. It is just a story; it may or not be worth reading. But it was my story, and I forgot to read it, let alone write it. That was the first misstep from Life to life. And the second was not sharing it with the people I love, with the world around me. And so I lost Living to living, left Life behind for a life. Truly, the cake is a lie. So then, what is not a lie?
Again, I do not know what all of this means to you. Why title this post Legacy? Well, now we get to the meat of the matter! I used to think legacy a four-letter word, a thing that amassed estates and children alike to act as billboards posted along the road-side of history to proclaim to others: “I was here. I will not be forgotten!” And that was exactly what so much of my own living was about, even if I did not realize it at the time. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted to be remembered after death. I wanted to be seen while living. But how can anyone see me, if I am blind and mute to myself first? I now know that was neither living, nor a legacy worth working toward.
I will admit that I began to recently think then that Legacy was having children, and that Living was raising a family. In a way, it is, but not as ends, but only a means. Bear with me here for a moment. The greatest gift we give ourselves is ourselves. The answer to Life is a simple refrain: Here I am. In that refrain we give ourselves the permission and strength to have a voice for everything worth saying, “Here I am. I love myself for who I am. I love you for who you are.” And then is not this the greatest gift to give our children? It’s not estates or wealth or even ourselves, but instead we give them our compassion and love so that they might join the fray to say “Here I am, too!” Yes, our legacy lies in our children and our families, but our true Legacy is that we might Live and Love so that they might join us in really the only refrain the Universe, Life, Living and Love will ever utter: here I am.
Here I am.