In 1988, the editors of LIFE magazine asked 300 “wise” women and men this question: “What is the meaning of life?”
They asked housewives and famous authors, politicians and poets. Personally, I liked Charles Bukowski’s answer best: “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
I was driving into London a few years back, and when I imagine what it was like to be a Beatle, I imagine them on the same road I took. I imagine them rolling joints as empty beer bottles clink on the ground. Maybe John blew cigarette smoke out the window as Paul talked to him about a tour in the U.S. They’d just flown in from Rishikesh or Hamburg, and to be sure, the entire world was at their fingertips. Youth’s life lust pulsed under their skin, and miracles fell around them like snowflakes. Women fainted at the sight of them, for Christ’s sake. They didn’t know John would be assassinated, and nothing on their young bodies had disintegrated. Life is change, and we should know that. We should feel the impermanence of it all so that we endeavor to live good days.
I think we’re here to be fascinated with each other. There is infinite meaning in the love we feel for other people, and as a chronic-introvert, I am surprised time and again to know this is true. Oftentimes I find myself thinking about someone I’ve lost touch with. There are thousands of memories – camaraderies and unspoken feelings. If you’ve been a good friend, ever, it’s likely I’ve wondered about you. How you’re doing, if you think about me. There are things I remember that, in the moment, I thought were of no consequence at all. A loving look from someone unexpected – someone who shouldn’t be looking at me in that way. The “I’m here for you’s” fueled by beers on the gondola above fresh powder. I remember people’s best and most admirable qualities forever, and they crop up in my mind all the time.
It’s a contradiction, but some of the best experiences of my life started with a lump in my throat. An incredible discomfort that eventually led me to elation and reward. The fear mixed in with joy – almost in equal parts. These are the moments that stick to the walls of my memory. I remember how Dublin looked outside Guinness’s tasting room windows – city lights lain with blackness and stars. I lived under the wings of adventure there, and it was one of the good days. What I know now is there is no shortage of good days, but there is a shortage of good lives. I remember playing soccer with locals under Kilimanjaro. I was amazed at the sheer size of the thing, and couldn’t find the separation between the snow and the clouds.
Life has it’s shadows – it’s betrayals, hatreds, heartbreaks, losses. But if I gather some of that ugliness and make it beautiful, my life is more meaningful. When I dig into my days searching for beauty, or when I try to create some of my own, I fill my heart like a gas tank, and it is enough.
When I wrapped my arms around you or loved you from afar, I was living life to the maximum. When we are aware of our own life, our freedom, our ability to dip into the world’s magic, we are living passionately. When the days look different, we are living well. We “know” we are going to die, right? But how many of us really know that? How many of us act like that?
I think the pursuit of beauty makes life worth living. It’s worth dying for. The things I will remember all my life were wrapped up in beauty. In beauty, we find the high moments. Days when music plays in your head, and you are stunned by what you see or feel. We should not forget to seek these moments out, because they are the point of all of it. At least, I think so.
You have to see things, and make your loves multiple. Do as Debbie Millman advised, and “Imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.” I think that when we’ve lost our grip on the magic, on the mystery, when we’ve sacrificed the adventurers inside ourselves, we’ve lost the point.
I don’t think it’s easy – I don’t always do it. But I remember the feeling of sitting in a pub outside Parliament with a beer and a baguette not knowing what would happen next. I remember the flutter of butterflies in my stomach as I drove to the house of someone I loved irrationally, fully, in a head over heels fashion. It’s an electric feeling – a shock to the system – where our petals completely unfold, and we’re amazed at ourselves and the world. We get to the core of it – that unnameable feeling – and there is nowhere else you would rather be.
I skydived (skydove? Just kidding, but why isn’t it skydove…) for a magazine assignment last week. The video is below if you want to see! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and the zip is 92109.