“How wonderful to be alive, he thought. But why does it always hurt?”
― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago
The first condition of being a human being is, of course, being alive. Some humans were once alive, but are not now, some aren’t yet, but will be one day, but all of us will have been in this world physically, and mentally.
Being alive and consciously feeling alive are two different things. Many of us are alive but don’t put much thought into it. We follow the prompts and live life according to a script but never stop to consider what a strange thing it is to be a freely moving agent made of meat and bone with a self-contained inside who is capable of choosing things, imagining things, making things, and reflecting on its own existence and meaning.
We don’t like to feel alive it because the fact reminds us that we once weren’t, and eventually we won’t be. Being alive means time is running out. We don’t like to feel it because it’s confusing and terrifying to find yourself to be so awake and aware. You are a moving and breathing and thinking thing, but what are you? Why are you? You have all these sensations, warm, cold, hungry, tired, wanting. You have hands that grasp, eyes that see, and parts that you can’t see that do things that you can’t understand or control.
What are you?
“creatures smart enough and unlucky enough to have figured out we’re alive, and we’re going to die without ever knowing any purpose. We can pretend all we want and we can wish all we want, but that basic existential fact remains—we can’t know.”
― James Redfield, The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision
We don’t understand how we could come from chemicals and dirt and still feel so fierce and full of light. How does a heartbeat come from carbon and water? How does love come from DNA and oxygen? How can an I come out of gray matter and neurons? And where do we go when those parts stop working? We know we will no longer be so awake and aware, but where will we be?
Why must we be burdened with such knowledge, curiosity, and awareness, huh? No other animal seems to know or care whether they are alive or not so why should we? Why, even when we try to forget and live as best, we can, do these questions and uncertainties creep up on us while sitting at a red light or in the middle of the night when all we need is sleep. Why must our peace be so disturbed and why must I remind you now that you do know that you are alive, even if you don’t know what that means exactly, and that you do know that you are wasting your privilege by ignoring it and refusing to face it.
I know you don’t like to feel so alive or to examine the related implications associated with your condition. I know you’d rather not spend so much time facing that confusion and horror, but it’s time you did, and did so often.
“The human heart beats approximately 4,000 times per hour and each pulse, each throb, each palpitation is a trophy engraved with the words ‘you are still alive.’ You are still alive. Act like it.”
Rocks exist. Dogs exist. The moon the wind, and theory of relativity exist, but they do not feel like we do. They do not know they exist the way that we do. Our existence is something we fear, celebrate, and grieve for. Our hearts swell at the reminder, and then quickly contracts from our fragility, our transience, our insignificance. We recoil with regret and panic. We simply can’t process what it means to be a living thing, it’s too disturbing, but you cannot escape it. You know the truth. Somewhere we know the truth. We are alive. Against all odds and beyond all comprehension we are alive, but only right here and only for now…
The truth is it hurts to be so aware and yet so transient, so temporary. It hurts to be given this body and this mind and no time to really put either to much use. It hurts to be something you cannot be comfortable being. It hurts to be given an existence you have so little control of. Being alive is disappointing and draining. It’s a horrible weight on your chest. The weight is eons behind you, eons ahead of you, and the knowledge that all you will ever get out of it amounts nothing.
“Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.”
― John Osborne, Look Back in Anger
Existing is a real pain sometimes, but it’s better than not existing, some would argue. Facing your existence isn’t easy, but it’s better than living your life on autopilot, maybe. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves I suppose but I would advise that any time your existence looks you in the eyes, you look right back. To look away is the biggest waste of all, the biggest regret you may have. Being able to face that you are a living being and consider what that means is one of the few dignities we have been afforded in this universe. So let yourself feel it, the pain, the fear, the wonder, and all.
Us humans aren’t very good at separating the privilege of life from the burden of life, but feeling alive does not require acknowledgment of any of that baggage. I’m not asking you to take stock of where you are, or examine the choices you’ve made, or where you want to go. I’m not asking you to love life, or even to be especially grateful for it.
I’m asking you to look up and admit simply that you are here and that that fact is really something. All of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all such a rare privilege and each of should acknowledge and explore what that means. Each of us should breathe it in and wear our existence with dignity. Roll your existence around in your head, breath in and out, wiggle your toes, look up all the sky, take in the light, and call your own name aloud. Plant yourself in space and time, and with spirit, with pride, announce your existence to yourself and no one else. You are here. You are here. You are here!
“The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.”
— Carlos Castaneda
You can see, and smell, and touch things. You can move your body and you can shout, laugh, or cry. You can feel sunshine, pain, and time passing you by. You are a you, an I, and that is something special. Can you even fathom the astonishing odds of that were against you? Can you fathom all that had to happen to get you here?
Not many things get to be a thing, let alone an I. You should never fear your existence, regret it, or ignore it. It’s too curious and too temporary of a state to shy away from! You should feel proud and interested in your being, and you should try to be as alive, feel as alive, as you can be and as often as you can. It will be over before you know it and you will wish you had faced sooner.
“It felt so amazing to be alive I could never think of anything else.
― Marty Rubin
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