Previously published at the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.
Bright red strawberries alongside burnt pizza crust. Using the hospital tray, I meticulously cut strawberries into fourths to be drowned in Yoplait vanilla yogurt. Trash lines the people-flooded street we cross to enter the Orpheum Theater, tickets in hand, for a remarkable musical. The table beside my son’s medical pole holds unlooked for flowers.
Choosing to live life means living life in paradox, because life is hard.
If you are really living life, you have relationships and with relationships come the blood, sweat and tears that make life hard. Sure other things make life hard: loneliness and isolation, poor health. Those things are harder to bear without relationships; it all comes back to relationships. We ache for relationships. Relationships keep us in a paradox.
A paradox is a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities. Life is a paradox.
Living life fully means feeling life fully in its wonderfully joyous excitement; calm tender quietude; and draining, nagging suffering. Living life fully means taking events, as they are, not wasting time wishing they were something else. Describe it for it what it is, terrible or exhilarating, but save your wishes.
Plenty of aspects of life requires us to find the middle ground between two extremes. In medio stat viritus, the saying goes, in the middle stands virtue. The best and happiest way will be in the middle ground. This does not apply when it comes to mood. Perhaps we would enjoy never wavering emotion. Some seem disposed to it; others force it upon themselves because the natural swing of life’s rhythm proves too difficult to tolerate. They prefer to know what to expect.
That is where we miss out. Imagine an opera-singer singing half-heartedly, a quarterback playing so-so, a dancer lagging behind the beat; a parent who visits only once in a while. Life is meant to be lived fully, freely, and fruitfully.
Fully means holding nothing back. Whatever one does, doing it sincerely, with one’s energy and resources, prudently applied. I may need to conserve energy today knowing tomorrow will be a hard day. Instead of doing tasks lightly today, I intentionally choose light tasks.
Freely means recognizing oneself as an agent of free will, making a conscious choice about one’s activities (when possible) and reactions. I do this better when I am in a habit of reflecting a little bit each day, starting the morning by running through my mind the plans of the day, thinking ahead of what I want the day to be like and preparing myself for days when I know the unexpected ought to be expected. Thus, I maintain in control, at least of my feelings, when anything could happen.
Fruitfully means doing my best to bring good out of a situation. This may be a lesson learned after observing my behavior and reaction during suffering, something to put in my notebook to better handle the next run around. It may be an immediate good, by choosing to create some art or craft, or a boon to a relationship by letting my six-year-old give me a ballet lesson. Perhaps it is putting the phone, world wide web, and text notifications aside to focus deeply on the production I am about to see, the conversation I am about to have.
Fully, freely, fruitfully. It is the life advice that will apply to any moment, whether the pendulum will swing this way or that.
The paradox of life is not meant to be observed only. The tension that comes from shifting our gears between tragedy and comedy is the motivating force to make us flexible and adept at living life, to grow stronger, to find peace. We do not become stronger by “white-knuckling it” through our trials, by tamping our excitement in great life moments, or by avoiding relationships that require sacrifice on our part (I say sacrifice, not abuse). Whether the moment requires us to push through hard times or actively find a way out, the strength lies in leaning into the workout it does on our heart. I may not know what it looks like on the other side, but I can get through this. It can be worked for good.