This was originally published on Medium in April, 2014.
“Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
— Sophie Scholl
Almost exactly three months ago, I tried to end my life; I’ve written about it, talked about it, gotten medical help in response to it, and done just about everything except understand it. Perhaps I never will; perhaps it’s simply outside of the realm of explanation.
It would be a lie to say I’ve moved on — you don’t just pick up where you left off after that — but as moves time, I’ve moved forward. The movement of time is the most inscrutable mystery of life; we can always return to the same place, but we can never really go back. Time moves us irrevocably, and to really live is to embrace that fully. The Old Man, chiseled by the years, with his timeworn, tender but textured hands, is a living portrait of time itself; The Martyr, cut down in her youth, leaves an imprint on the ages no less representative of the forward march of time. Both embody time; one is sculpted by it, and it, in turn, is sculpted by the other; one in life, one in death.
At certain times, I wish with all my heart for nothing more than to find myself slowly becoming The Old Man. In the days that fill in-between, I long for the death of The Martyr. Both, of course, are misplaced desires. The final form of The Old Man means nothing besides the paths that took him there. The finality of The Martyr merely illuminates her life. It’s clear why anyone would wish for either end: honor is due in either case. But the end is something we all come to, and something none of us can truly determine.
All we have is to choose in what manner we arrive.
Will it be in fear? Hating even that one last breath, gasped out alone? Or will it be in glory? Glory in a life well spent, glory even in that final exhalation?
We all live with the promise that time will not stand still. Each of us works his way to an end. An end not to be ignored, and yet not to be decided. Time marches on. Will I?
~ Part Two: Choices ~
Martyrdom and Old Age stand rich with the spoils of time. A life lived to the fullest can do no other. To march on with time, one must make choices continually; it is only in not choosing that we reject the inevitability of a future.
How should we choose? As a college student (on leave), I’ve come to accept that NOW! and NOW ONLY! do I have the opportunity to choose what I do with my life. If I look honestly (and I’m sure you’ll find the same if you look so too), most of my conversations with people in my station of life belie that assumption. “What are you majoring in? And what are you looking to do with that, you know, once you graduate?” I’ve asked and been asked those questions more times than I can recall. But really. Am I at 19 supposed to determine now what choices I’ll make for the rest of my life? To me, that seems more like trying to get out of having to choose as much as possible, and that, well, seems like a poor choice.
To live is to move forward; to move forward is to choose. Each choice is made in a moment, and though we may face new choices in the moment next, that first choice determines nothing outside of the moment in which it is made. To choose is not to plan the future, but to embrace it. Career-oriented thinking is a broken paradigm, proclaiming concern for the future, but based on a fear of it, or more specifically, a fear of having to choose in the future. That’s a far cry from moving forward.
Dwelling on choices made or to be made is nothing more than a distraction from making choices here and now. Don’t choose in a valiant effort to fix the past; don’t choose in a vain effort to plot the future. Choose instead that which best affirms the wonder of the ever moving present. In the present we have our best glimpse of eternity — a time that never slips away, so long as we choose not to ignore it. Life, and love, and beauty are fundamentally of the present. Life, so long as we seize hold of it, will not be wasted. Love, so long as we faithfully and fervently uncover the truest form of the beloved, will not wane. Beauty, so long as we focus, so long as we lie to tell the truth, will not go overlooked.
For each of us, there will come a time to choose how to spend out last breath. For The Old Man, it will be to seize that final day of a life lived fully. For The Martyr, it will be to proclaim an undying love for a beauty desecrated. Each will choose not in a way that suddenly and miraculously redefines their histories, but in a way perfectly in rhyme with each choice made before it.