The Other I

August 21, 2014

What makes living worth it?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:04 pm

Global communications seem particular laden right now with earth-shattering crisis.  Just the front page today includes bombings and rocket attacks in Israel and Palestine, beheadings and live burials in Iraq and Syria, the military confrontations in Ukraine, the militarization of police “protection” in Ferguson in the United States, the Ebola virus in Africa.  The temptation is to despair at being so helpless in the face of it all, when one’s whole impulse is to STOP IT! 

But I myself live in a small world – not in the Middle East or Africa and I am now retired. Perhaps I did some small good as a university professor, perhaps sometimes as a friend, and in the partnership with my husband.   But now there are no students to spend energy trying to help, no fellow faculty, no ongoing research or books to be written.  I’m not overwhelmingly useful except to my husband, who is equally important to me.    In terms of achieving something significant for mankind, I am definitely no longer making the grade.

What then is the value of my life now?

Somehow life itself seems intrinsically valuable to me.  I don’t mean my life.  I mean life.  It’s amazing.  Incredible is life.  I can’t think that there is a way that this great gift can be earned or even paid for.  The only thing worth doing with it is grabbing it with both hands in gratitude and joy and respect for the capacities, as well as the limitations of what it is to be human.

Admittedly, now I come to the tricky part.  I have the great gift of life.  And yet it is a mystery.  In what is the fulfillment of a human life?  Some of the ideals I was given during my Catholic socialization now sound bizarre.  Martyrdom, for example.  I thought I would like to be a martyr when I was a child.  I’ve been remembering that now with some trepidation as martyrdom is once again held up in the Muslim world as a great act, and as we have been commemorating the beginning of World War I when more than 6 million military laid down their lives for their countries.

I’ve been playing with a thought that I think also comes from somewhere in the bowels of my Catholic upbringing:  that if we truly love just one other person, we have reached the pinnacle of human achievement.  The version I was no doubt first socialized to probably was something more like “reached true sainthood,” or some such, but the point is potentially relevant.

Loving is something that as a human I need to do as much as I need to eat and sleep.

I do not know if the human race is going to survive, or if war or disease or climate change, or a meteor strike, or some other calamity will bring our species to an end in the near future.  Whatever the dangers, there is not much I can do to influence the course of events.

But I can honor life by refusing to let it be diminished by anger or despair or hopelessness.  Wherever my life in particular, and life in general is going, whenever and however it ends, it is worth living now.  I don’t have to earn it.  I can’t earn it.

Life is simply a great great gift.



  1. Just the thoughts many of us struggle with at this stage of life.

    After a life threatening ailment a few years ago I had resolved I would use the gift, the reprieve no longer for myself. Sadly this has not yet happened for some reason..


    Comment by tskraghu — August 21, 2014 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

    • Isn’t this exactly the problem?! The more one realizes what a gift life is, the greater the impossibility of being able to say thank you adequately. I look at the great religions, especially the one in which I was socialized, and many of the suggestions for reflecting gratitude seem positively pathological.

      So far the best I have been able to come up with is to try to respect life, to be kind, to return to others as far as possible the commitments of care and love and faithfulness that have been given to me. In practice, this doesn’t seem like much – certainly not a very heroic goal. But I know how much I appreciate it in others.

      Isn’t it the frustrating paradox of being human that we can see so much that needs to be done, and yet we each have only a relatively small contribution we can make? I keep looking at those bees buzzing around my garden. We depend on them for the very food we eat. It might look like all they do is make honey, and it certainly doesn’t look like one of the great achievements of the universe. But we literally do not know how we could survive without them.

      Btw, I appreciate your own posts the way I appreciate the bees. Sometimes it’s the wisdom, sometimes it’s the problem-solving, sometimes it’s just the humor that gives my day an extra up. Thank you.

      On Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 12:54 AM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — August 22, 2014 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  2. Many thanks for your kind and encouraging words.


    Comment by tskraghu — August 24, 2014 @ 11:53 am | Reply

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