By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)
The story is told of a man who went to see an Indian sage seeking the meaning of life. The wise man advised him to walk the world for 40 years. The enquirer did as told retuning with the same query. The elder encouraged that since that pilgrimage didn’t help, he needed to walk the world 4 decades more. I too from the age of 8 pondered what’s the purpose for my being? I spent 2 score years mulling over this, finding no answer even after studying the thoughts of philosophers from Tales to Chomsky. I then came upon these words of Beatle John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” It was a pointer, finally bringing to memory Earnie Smith, who had solved my problem postulating in 1974, “Life is just for living.” Being then of childhood innocence and embryonic intellect, I couldn’t grasp this elementary truth.
Today in this, my great future, -to paraphrase Marley-, I’m often fighting life rather than living it. Sadly, I am far from being alone in this for many, -regardless of successes/achievements-, are angry at life. We are so broken and demoralised by hurt, we embrace faithlessness. You maybe be reading this thinking, “I know so and so who is just like that.” The more appropriate reflection is: Am I like that? Do I simply complain about and blame life, in place of living it? We all want society designed according to our recipe for perfect living, refusing to practise Gandhi’s teaching, “be the change we want to see in this world.” Michael Jackson with all his frightening anomalies including a sick racial inferiority complex, got this right singing the Glen Ballard/Siedah Garrett written, “Man in the mirror.”
In the spring of our lives, we have dreams, ambitions, goals. Without these we are not inspired to aspire; we wouldn’t chart a course. Summer offers rationale, and autumn advances our reasonableness, often more than we would like. Awakened to objective limits, we face the real, accepting that the ideal, “is an illusion to be pursued but never attained,” -to borrow from Haile Selassie. As we edge to winter, regretful bitterness usually emerges.
This latter reality happens particularly because we didn’t realize that Earnie Smith is right. We failed to appreciate inter alia that every second of everyday while we were going somewhere, we had arrived somewhere. In primary school I was obsessed with getting to secondary school, while there, university became the goal.
Not having completed even a bachelor’s, I hungered for a PhD. Having achieved it, I was completely deflated, remaining demotivated for years. You see, I was only on, but not in the journey! It’s great to win the prize, but if the price is the sacrifice of living, It’s an expensive, yet valueless, joyless reward! Expensive and valuable are never identical.
I note that quite often when difficulties come we state accusingly, “life is so unfair.” Did it promise to be fair?! Isn’t it through living that we secure rights and justice? Some of history’s greatest figures won their place through struggle for these and other indispensable essentials of humanity. From Spartacus to Rosa Parks are testimonies of this. Living is meeting adversities with determination, for life is a constant conscious or unconscious battle. Imagine the number of pathogens our bodies conquer daily to remain alive. As with biology, so we must meet our social and other challenges, seeing them as opportunities to live stronger, wiser, purer, batter and braver; for to live without courage, is to be a living dead! Blaming, accusing, and chastising life because we must climb mountains, is not to understand, that the tendency of life is to grow i.e., to strive to be a product par excellence of the handmaiden of life itself.
The Buddhists say life is like rowing out into the ocean in canoe knowing that it is going to sink. This is wisdom! Yes, we will die! So live remembering when you were born you were crying; but knowing that you will die smiling because you lived with so much passion that like Voltaire you conquered death. And because you lived giving and loving, the world will cry, terribly sad that you are no more. Therefore, don’t despise life, live it!! Undertake your journey from womb to tomb with the will to die victorious!