Congratulations! You have won a lifetime supply of Life!
But what to do with that supply? For some people, what makes life worth living is something they are passionate about. “Passion” has many connotations – religious, sexual, psychological, even culinary. But the essence of it is very strong positive feeling and interest.
(Despite our culture’s emphasis on passionate enthusiasm, you may like to know that the word “enthusiast” has, like other words in our language, undergone a great change of meaning. There was a time, especially during England’s long period of religious conflicts, when that word was equated with fanaticism. The bylaws of the highly prestigious British Royal Society actually stipulated that any person discussing religion or politics at a Society meeting was to be summarily ejected, for being an “enthusiast.”)
But isn’t there something which, all can agree, has precedence over everything else in life? I suppose the only reasonable answer is LIFE itself. When people say seriously, “It’s a matter of life and death!” we don’t stop to ask for details. We must give way, we must co-operate. If we have any purpose at all in this world, it is to help preserve each other’s lives. That’s why there are strong movements to prevent suicide, to abolish capital punishment, to provide medical aid to those most in need. Even the dying – even those who want to die – as a general rule, must, by all socially acceptable standards, be kept alive as long as possible (unless they have given legally valid instructions to the contrary).
Things weren’t always this way. For many centuries, the lives of people on the lower levels of the social scale were relatively cheap. This was partly because of prevailing beliefs that the world we know is not the only world there is – so, whatever’s wrong with things as they are in this corner of reality could be rectified in a life to come. But with the decline of such religious beliefs, non-believers have been left to face the shattering possibility that this life is all there is.
That need not be a totally dark outlook. If it’s the best possible life it can be, shouldn’t one life be enough? But that’s a pretty big “If.” Things being as they are, consider how much still stands in the way of a totally good life: pain, loss, illness, failure, betrayal – not to mention wars, pestilence, and any number of natural or unnatural disasters (as if you didn’t know about all this already). To many of us, it is the general wretchedness of life that makes its inevitable end seem so unfair. As the popular expression goes, which we often see expressed in more vulgar terms: “Life is terrible – and then you die.”
Yet, even if no heaven of any description were in the offing, a guarantee of feeling good all or most of the time, and of a peacefully painless ending, would probably be enough to satisfy most people. That, no doubt, is why drugs have always been so popular, starting with alcohol, and going back to the first edible or potable fermentations. “Better living through Chemistry,” as the advertisements used to put it, or “messing with your brain,” as more critical observers would have it, can indeed alter your whole outlook.
If we have any purpose at all in this world, it is to help preserve each other’s lives.
I speak from personal experience. Until my late 30s, I had never touched alcohol or smoked tobacco, let alone indulged in anything “stronger” – not from any moral conviction, but simply because I didn’t like the tastes and smells. I still don’t like them, and still don’t drink alcohol. But some friends finally cajoled me into trying pot – and for me, life was never the same again. For the first time, I had a method of changing, and usually improving, reality, at least temporarily.
This still didn’t make me really passionate about living – nor, for that matter, has anything else – but it did, in the absence of any agreeable alternative, make life more tolerable.
Nevertheless, many of my fellow mortals have the capacity (which I seem to lack) of finding meaning in activities which, in any cosmic perspective, are meaningless time-fillers, like hobbies, sports, politics, money-making, even warfare.
But, as you know, my peculiar personal enthusiasm, of promulgating my own thoughts, is relatively harmless. So, in closing, let me offer you one of them which may soften some of the less cheerful things I’ve said here:
LIFE CAN BE GOOD WHILE IT LASTS – AND IT’S GUARANTEED TO LAST YOUR WHOLE LIFETIME.