May 30, 2016

The Problem with Counting our Lives in Years.


“People ask: ‘Why do children or young people die, when they have lived so little?’ How do you know that they have lived little? This crude measure of yours is time, but life is not measured in time. This is just the same as to say: ‘Why is this saying, this poem, this picture, this piece of music so short, why was it broken off and not drawn out to the size of the longest speech or piece of music, the largest picture?’ As the measure of length is inapplicable to the meaning (or greatness) of productions of wisdom or poetry, so—even more evidently—is it inapplicable to life. How do you know what inner growth this soul accomplished in its short span, and what influence it had upon others? Spiritual life cannot be measured by a physical measure.” ~ Leo Tolstoy


I’ve always looked at my life within the context of a hundred years.

At 10 years old, the way I saw it, I’d just passed the 10 percent mark on my life span. Now, as I’m approaching 25, I’m turning the page from quarter one to quarter two. Without even realizing it, I’ve been looking at life through a lens of entitlement—as if I have some divine birthright to 100 years on this floating ball of water in space. As if a century had been carved out in time just for me to live out my personal desires.

But as I’m surrounded by the cold realities of the state of our nation’s health, little holes have been poked in my blissful bubble of ignorance. People die at age four, at 12, at 21, at 33, at 50, at 89, some of us even die in utero, or maybe at the very second we pass through our mothers into the world. Some of us die in a split second without warning and some of us have years to wrap our heads around the idea of not existing. Whether we’re aware of it at the time or not, one day our feet will hit the earth in the morning and it will be the very last time they ever do. There will come a day that we leave a footprint in the dirt that will never be made again.

So no, I am not entitled to a goddamn century; I am not even entitled to one single day.

The truth is, our bodies have been moving toward death since the day we were born, not growing to fill a set of one-hundred-year-old imaginary shoes. This is a rather morbid thought to have, I realize, but fortunately it’s not our bodies we need to be concerned with. Death occurs when something outgrows the limits of its physical dimensions. It signals graduation rather than demise, expansion rather than extinction, a dissemination not a dissolution, a returning to the source like a wave to the ocean—the substance of the wave isn’t gone, the expression has simply transitioned from finite to infinite.

Every day that our meat suits move closer to the grave, our spirits move closer to liberation. Each day in the interim is a chance to grow, to love, to forgive, to taste, to delight, to hold, to move, to speak, to listen, to experience, to engage and to embrace.

Someday I might be on the receiving end of a life-limiting diagnosis, and whether this life hands me two or 10 or 75 years, I vow in this moment to view it as an offering rather than a sentence.

If the day comes earlier than I wish, I will not have been robbed, I will not have been treated unfairly. If the number I’m given is 50, then that’s 25 more years given—not 50 taken away. Life is a matter of addition, not subtraction.

Someone I admire said, “Life is made up of a collection of moments that are not ours to keep.” Nothing about this life is ours to keep. We don’t get to claim ownership of time the way we try to with land and cars and homes and businesses. So when we own nothing, we subtract from nothing, we lose nothing, we miss nothing.

And if we start to look at life this way, as if each day were born from unassuming generosity rather than the result of a universal power making good on an entitlement we’ve been promised, all the pain and confusion surrounding death would have no basis. We humans have a hard time accepting the hand we’re given when we believe it was dealt unfairly. But there is no “Why me?” when nothing was ever “mine” to begin with.

When each day is a day added rather than dozens taken away, we just might figure out that the living in our years adds up to a life—one that is full, no matter how short.


Author: Jessica Johnson

Image: Author’s own, taken by Eva Fuze

Editor: Emily Bartran

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Jessica Johnson  |  Contribution: 760