There’s an odd tonality to a life spent primarily in the pursuit of maintaining life: where your main occupation is “fixing yourself,” on a day-to-day basis (eating pills, visiting doctors, etc.), so that you can continue that process again tomorrow, and hopefully (hopefully?) for many days to come.
It seems rather solipsistic. Perhaps even selfish. Just living your life, spending your days, trying to stay alive.
One thing it definitely is (for the most part at least) is a bit boring. It gets to be a little bit of a drag, trying to stay alive. Or maybe it’s just that I have cancer. Or maybe it’s just that the sky is cloudy this morning and my tummy hurts. I don’t know.
But then when I get thinking like this, what I realize (which I’ve been realizing a lot lately about a lot of the seemingly peculiar things I’m dealing with) is this:
Hey, man– this is what everybody is dealing with.
The primary occupation of every living thing, for the vast majority of their life, is simply working to stay alive.
It’s why we breathe, and why we eat. It’s why we try not to go crazy. (This latter activity is a twist generally accepted to be exclusive to the human species, although the behavior of zoo animals leads me to suspect otherwise.)
But that doesn’t seem like much fun!
Just trying stay alive?! That doesn’t seem like a reason for living!
Unless, of course, life is FUN. (Or “rewarding,” or “satisfying,” or “interesting,” or ______ [fill in your own favorite adjective])
Because if life is ________, then it is worth working your ass off to get more of it.
When life is _____, it’s the best!
But what if it’s not? What if life is not ______? (I choose the adjective “fun,” because for me “fun” also includes things like “interesting” and “rewarding,” “enjoyable” and “beautiful.”)
Well, if life is not ______, then one of two things is probably happening:
1) You’re just not paying attention.
Or, (more likely…)
2) The amount of effort you’re having to put in just to survive, in addition to the amount of pain or hardship you are currently experiencing, is outweighing the positive things (fun) that life is giving you.
It’s a simple mathematical equation, really:
if FUN < SURVIVAL EFFORT + PAIN/HARDSHIP, then… LIFE SUCKS.
if FUN > SURVIVAL EFFORT + PAIN/HARDSHIP then… LIFE IS GREAT! (or at least OK. Hooray!)
Pretty obvious, right? At least if you remember your < and > signs. To put it in other words: If the good outweighs the bad, then life is good! And if the bad outweighs the good, then life is bad.
But considering the above, one thing that really jumps out at me is that you can seriously tip the balance of the good/bad life scales if you actually enjoy some of the effort required to stay alive.
Eating, for example, is a required life activity that can be extremely enjoyable. But even working (“making a living”) can be great– especially if your work is doing something you love to do: like playing music to stadiums full of adoring fans, or building beautiful things, or creating art, or saving people’s lives, or whatever it may be that you find fulfilling.
In other words, if your SURVIVAL EFFORT is actually for the most part FUN for your, then you’re totally tipping the life-scales! Life, for you, is very likely good. It may even be great. In the very least, it’s OK. And that (trust me) is OK. It could be much, much worse.
All of the above has made me realize a few things about my own life. And at the risk of getting even more solipsistic, here they are:
• I have dealt with a lot of PAIN and HARDSHIP in the last four years. So I have worked like hell not only to survive, but to find (and create) FUN. To keep my life balance on the good side of the good/bad equation.
• It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, it’s been really fucking hard. Especially when, for example, my stomach hurts so much that it’s not even fun to eat. Or when my body aches so much that I can’t get up and go outside to get some fresh air, and smell some roses. Or when my mind is so fuzzy that it’s difficult to read. Or write. Or even watch a goddamn movie.
Because if you can’t do any of those things, then… well, sitting on the couch or lying in bed all day is NOT as much great as it might sound.
Even going to the hospital is more fun.
• Speaking of which– one of my best (and luckiest) Secret Tricks For Enjoying the Cancerful Life has been finding FUN in the EFFORT to stay alive. This not only adds to the FUN (positive) side of the life scale, it also takes away from the EFFORT (negative) side. It turns the effort into fun! Good into bad! Like magic!
• All the doctors appointments, for example– I kind of love them. Part of that is definitely just from having a reason to get my ass off the couch– but it’s not just that. I am lucky enough to be deeply and endlessly fascinated by all the whiz-bang technology and intelligence we have amassed in a collective and concerted effort just to keep other people alive. (Other people! Imagine that! While we’re all already super busy just trying to keep ourselves alive. That’s pretty damn cool.)
• And all of that effort and intelligence and technology and energy dedicated to maintaining life reminds me of something else: that there is an inherent assumption among all of us living things that life is worth maintaining.
Sometimes, you need reminding of that. Especially when it’s hard, doing all this maintaining, and not having that much fun.
And oddly enough, just talking about stuff like this suddenly has made things easier for me today. Magically, the bad is turning into good, and here I am starting to have a good time. Even despite the cloudy morning and the achey tummy.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The sun has actually started to come out, and my stomach hurts less than when I started this post. So maybe it’s not magical. Maybe it’s logical. And/or biological.
Whatever it is, feeling better now than I did a few hours ago reminds me that life can be fun. That there are laughs to be had. That it won’t always be bad.
Sometimes, it’ll can be really, really good.
I know that this is true. I just need to be reminded of it, from time to time. I suspect a lot of other people do too.
And now I’ve done it. I’ve reminded myself, and you! And just like that, I feel a lot better. I mean, I don’t feel fucking AMAZING or anything, but I feel a lot better. (Which is slightly amazing.)
Point is, what started as something bad has turned into something good. Suddenly, today is better than yesterday. Suddenly this afternoon is better than this morning.
Things were cloudy, and tummy-achey, and they kind of sucked.
But I tried, and it worked.
And now I’m smiling. (Literally. Not just on the inside.)
And now I’m laughing.
And I’m sure glad I was around to make that happen.