I came across Ionesco’s quote right around the first of the year and I thought about sharing it then as my own personal inspiration for how to approach the new year, but in the end I just couldn’t get myself to delve too deeply (and I admit, I was afraid of exploring the idea too much).
After all, I spent most of my childhood terrified (not hyperbole) of death.
I spent much of my young life (up until the age of six) in oxygen tents in hospitals with all those beeps and blips and machines gasping and wheezing so that I didn’t have to . . . and over the years since I have jokingly (sort of) referred to myself as a bubble boy, an allusion to the rather cheesy Travolta movie that came out during my adolescence.
I was somewhat sickly as a boy, and when I was thirteen I became so ill (with such an abnormal illness it’s very name began with the word “Atypical”) that one of my doctors told my family, “It’s just a matter of time.”
Yep! He said it while standing next to my ice bed.
Those words, that doctor’s face, are still etched into my memory. Lucky for me another of my doctors sought outside help, found someone who figured out what was wrong.
And you know what that someone (an intern at another hospital, a student no less) told me to do? Fight! In essence, he told me to keep on living. I heeded his advice with every fiber of my being.
For years afterward, I was afraid to go to sleep each night for fear that it might be the last.
I don’t mention all this to belabor my childhood (as it was really quite incredible and blessed and full of more love and happiness and support than I can ever convey in words), nor to merely reveal my most profound fear back then, but simply to profess just how pervasive and prodigious that fear was.
I was absolutely, completely, utterly consumed by a fear of dying! Every single day!
So much so that I asked my poor mother, every night, if I was going to die. Day after dat after day, for years . . . until the day I became aware of just what I was doing to her with that question. Of just how unfair I was being, but I also realized just how much fear spreads sometimes, can overtake our lives, and also the lives of those around us, those who love us, who are every bit as helpless as we are to control the outcome . . .
But my mom let me burden her with that question, day after day after day. She took on the weight of my fear and that is not something one can ever repay. In truth, she allowed me to live and to embrace the moments of life I had each day by letting me purge that fear (albeit merely for a moment).
That is perhaps the most remarkable gift a parent can give, beyond the instant they create us, the instant they give us life, to unflaggingly become a light in the darkness. I was lucky to have that sort of family (both parents, sister, grandparents) . . . hence my comment about being blessed despite the bubble I often found myself in literally or metaphorically.
It was back then that I also (unintentionally, or at least unawares) adopted the philosophy that every new day is a blessing. I have for a few decades now called it my octogenarian outlook.
But when I wake up and have a new day, I believe it is imperative to try to squeeze as much life out of it as possible. As much joy. Even if it’s only that moment when I post a quote. That act is me, trying to elbow myself and say, hey, don’t forget . . . this moment right now is exquisite!
When I first read Ionesco’s words, they made me think about things (or to rethink things). To revisit an old terror from a different perspective.
Yes, everything dies. From the moment we are born, we are, more or less, dying. This was a thought that consumed me as a boy. Especially given the seeming randomness of it all. Or the miracle of it all, some might say. The magic of life itself.
As the new year approached, I thought about the idea of life, of the act of living, being abnormal and somehow it settled below my skin and has stayed with me all these months.
Over the past three weeks, I have had the ephemeral nature of life thrust in my face again and again and again. Profound reminders. Due to two of those instances, in particular, I found myself not merely experiencing a hyperawareness of mortality itself (the mortality of others, of family, of myself), but I also experienced that inescapable fear, not unlike I had as a boy those years before.
But since we (ourselves), in living, are an anomaly, our lives and each new day we have are all the more precious. It is all the more important that we savor as many moments as we can. That doesn’t mean we don’t need down time (moments of stillness, of quiet). Savor those, too.
While squeezing as much out of each day has been my outlook since I was thirteen, I never consciously considered the fact that each new day we get is, perhaps, an act of defiance. A breaking away from what might be expected. From the norm. That each day we live is an act of defiance, of contrariety.
At the same time that I collided with Ionesco’s take on life (and was forced to think about how often we tend to fill our time without really living it), I came across a few other quotes that resonated with me for a different reason.
Quotes about being different . . . about being “weird” . . . which resonated with my passion for misfits.
As a boy—a “bubble boy” in particular—I was inherently different from the other kids. I was noticeably different. Inexplicably different!
To the point that my frailty seemed to impact them at times. They didn’t understand what was happening or why (neither did I, it’s just the way I was). Maybe I was a reminder to them of the transience of life, of the fact that we have so very little control over our lives, aside perhaps from the way we spend our time. Most likely, not a reminder they were cognizant of, but one they intuited. Maybe they were afraid whatever made me so different, so weird, was something they could catch.
Why did I run and play along side them and suddenly get sick on the sidelines or in the outfield? It seemed unfathomable to me and to them.
In a way, I can see now, the universe might have been preparing me to become a storyteller. After all, I had to fill countless hours with something and it ended up being with my imagination.
Ironically, I didn’t read back then (too hyper, couldn’t sit still long enough to explore and decipher words on a page, even when I was ill). I always had to be doing something. And the thing I did most was create stories. While that is certainly a common aspect of childhood, I found myself doing it a disproportionate amount of time (much more than would be typical back then, even before diversions like TV and video games).
Like I said, near the first of this year, I also encountered a few other quotes which appear below:
“What makes you different or weird, that’s your strength.” – Meryl Streep
“Whatever makes you weird, is probably your greatest asset.” – Joss Whedon
“Don’t be afraid to be awesome. Sometimes being weird and different is good.” – Jacqueline Macinnes Wood
“Where’s your will to be weird?” – Jim Morrison
“It’s so weird to be alive and to be inside a body.” – Alejandro Jodorowsky
The things that made me most weird as a boy (my infirmities, my frequent undesired exile and isolation, my forced auto-amusement, as well as my sensitivity and empathy and compassion, and perhaps even the sense of humor I developed as a defensive mechanism, as a way to disarm or to connect) certainly all contributed to the person I am today, but also I think to the very thing I am most passionate about spending my time doing: creating stories that might touch some other person’s life in a positive way, that might add a spark of light, of inspiration, that might help them realize that despite the obstacles they face, life is worth living with as much exuberance as possible.
After all, it is “weird to be alive” (abnormal even), to be inside a body. Wonderfully weird!
To be alive inside the body we were born into, and to get the chance each day to be contrary, to be alive, to have the potential each and every day to embrace the things that make us weird, to recognize the strength within those traits, to give ourselves permission to be awesome . . . what an amazing magical miraculous thing!
I admit, I spent a lot of time and energy over the past three weeks afraid of the concept (yet especially afraid of the inescapable reality) of the mortality of my friends and my family and especially of myself (not with as much embarrassment or shame as when I was a boy, but with as much trepidation).
It was the first time in decades that I was immersed in that fear, the first time in a long time that I couldn’t escape the very disconcerting reminder . . . but it forced me to also remember with intention just how important it is to look at the way we spend our time, to remember what things are most important, and to give ourselves permission to fill our lives with those things as much and as often as we can.
How necessary it is that we chase our dreams!
For me, it’s filling my days with those small moments with family that are truly irreplaceable (having a glass of wine on the back porch and reminiscing, or sharing a meal, or even something as small as listening to their laughter from another room).
It’s those quiet times with friends where we chat, as well. And we laugh. But, at times, where we simply sit in proximity to each other absorbing the love and kindness and acceptance extended unequivocally (that feeling of belonging, that unspoken way friendship confirms the value of our being who we are, just us being ourselves).
It’s those moments when I allow myself to get outside, even if just for a short walk or run, to experience nature and the world and the moment of being alive . . . to take photos or play golf (which used to be about the challenge of the game and is now about the company).
It’s about those moments when I allow myself to be at the page and to write (chasing my dream), to know deep down in my bones that those moments of isolation not only help me recharge the empathy and sensitivity I exude, but also allow me to tap into the core of who I am, to understand myself a bit more fully, and my place in this wild, weird, wonderful world.
And to savor, especially to savor, every bit of brightness and joy and pleasure I can of each new day.
We are all different in some way (in sundry ways), weird in some way, and for much of our lives we are often conditioned to find ways to resist or to hide or to deny our weirdness. But considering the above quotes, living itself is weird, and abnormal, and reason enough—more than enough reason—to wring as much out of today, to squeeze as much out of right now, this moment here, as we can.
Hug your family. Be still with them. Notice everything you can.
Tell your friends they matter, and how special they truly are (not everyone has good friend, after all, or great friends).s
Be a goofball with the people who love you for your goofiness, or who at least accept you for it, and at times probably in spite of it. Be a goofball with yourself, and accept yourself for being weird, for having traits that don’t fit with the norm, and recognize the potential strength in those traits, in the way those things you probably hated about yourself as a kid, or resented, or regretted, or were ashamed of, are essential pieces of who you are. And of who you were meant to be.
Love yourself, hard as it is sometimes. Love others. Love the sunshine or the rain, and the fact that you have this moment right now to be outside, to be in it, to witness it, and engage with it . . .
Be abnormal! Every second you can! And live, and live, and live! And just be you.
In the end, it’s all we have. This moment. With us . . . being ourselves . . .
What makes you feel alive?
What makes you smile?
Do that. Do it now. Do it again. Do it as much and as often and as fully as you can. Chase your dreams.
Fill your life with the beatings of your heart!
The opposite of death isn’t life, isn’t the mere status of being alive, it’s the act of living.
So, remember to live!
It’s okay to be afraid of the ephemeral nature of our lives. I can’t escape that fear as much as I wish I could. As much as I thought I had. I understand that. Since I was a young boy, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t at least thought about that in some way, haven’t been aware of that in someway.
I imagine that was the impetus behind my need to look for hope, to look for the good in other people, to seek out a reason each and every day to smile and to say, thank you . . . to be grateful, yes, incomparably grateful for now. To be beyond grateful, really. For now. And for the people in my life . . . those who have been, but especially those who are today, at this very moment, and for this very moment, most especially this moment.
I recently had a chance to get away and I visited friends I hadn’t seen in years. People who, even though we don’t see each other much, as still extremely important to me, people who add to my life merely by being in it.
We did rather ordinary things like had coffee, or dinner, or we went to the zoo, or we talked about writing. Moments and things that, because of who I was with, because of how I viewed them, were really quite extraordinary. Give yourself permission to savor the ordinary moments. Of course, I also allowed myself to spend the night in a castle and it’s important to seize those out of the ordinary opportunities too, whatever might resonate with you deep down inside.
Wishing you all a day full of living, of savoring, of loving (others, but especially yourselves). And tomorrow I will wish you another day, and another . . . a lifetime . . . of being contrary, of being weirdly wonderfully alive, of embracing the abnormal (around you, within you). Grasp every moment you can (chasing dreams, stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new . . . feeling love and being love and letting the love you feel guide you, flow through you). At this moment. Right now. Right here where you are.
Okay, it’s time for me to see what else I can get out of this moment. For as Tolle claims, the present moment is all we have!