Disclaimer: this blog entry is sappy. If you are not a fan of the occasional dollop of same, I advise you to make your way to this month’s Misfortune 500, a bright little tale told from the perspective of next year’s comic book hero. *crossing my fingers for a movie deal*
Recently a friend asked me how life was going, and I noticed that I gave a stock response. The fact stuck in my craw. Stock responses are not meant for friends who want to know how you’re really doing. Who are looking out for you. In a case like that, where someone close is asking how you’re holding up, a stock response is an evasion.
This isn’t strange for me, I do a lot of evasive chat. Beginning at the tender age of seventeen when I left home for college, I started to learn that I was a much more private person than I believed myself to be. People, on the whole, were pretty open in my perspective. More open than I was comfortable being myself. I’m told this is typical of writers, and I like to cleave to that notion rather than likening it to cowardice.
But despite the evasion of my stock response, there was something behind it—a nucleus of a possible following discussion. That, I think, was my way of opening up. Just a crack, really, but enough to get a foot in if you were inclined to do so.
My response was, “So busy. I always try to get things to slow down but life just seems to keep getting faster and faster.”
Even as I said it I knew that I had been saying it for quite some time. I’ve been spouting variations of this for a few years. But what does it mean? Have things really been getting increasingly intense? Is my life like a movie, where there is a pre-written plot that swells and thickens until finally it climaxes, shortly before the credits? Now that’s a scary thought.
Or, perhaps, am I just experiencing life harder?
The subject got me thinking on the notion of experiencing life. It’s a value, I find, with many people. The idea that the game is more fun the deeper you’re in it. But how does one quantify that? How do you know when there’s no longer a part of you that is a spectator in your own game?
In Tolkein’s Middle-Earth (if you will indulge me in a moment of nerdery), there is a character in the ancient history of the world named Fëanor. Fëanor was an elf, and an exceptional one. He trapped the light of the Two Trees, the source of all light in Middle-Earth, into the Silmarils—three gems. After the desecration of the Two Trees, the Silmarils were the only light left in the world. He created the Palantin as well, the magical crystal balls, one of which was possessed by Saruman. Gandalf said this feat was beyond the skill of either Saruman or Sauron. Fëanor was fierce and passionate. He gave his life in the pursuit of banishing the evil that would drive his people apart, and rob the world of beauty. When he died, the passing of his fiery soul reduced his body to cinders.
I thought of Fëanor when writing this blog because he is a paragon for the concept of living hard, of playing the game with all you’ve got. If you take a look at fiction in general, you’ll find a lot of characters like him in one way or another. We like to look up to people who refuse to be detached from their world. People who belong on Earth.
So what position do you play in your own game? Benchwarmer, or Team Captain?
Allowing yourself to feel, to really feel things that are happening to you and to become emotionally invested as frequently as you can… this takes a lot of courage. And it’s that courage that we look up to. It’s what we, as authors, weave into our boldest characters. It’s what immolates the flesh of Fëanor as his body finally fails him. The tireless audacity that makes us throw ourselves into the fray day after day, though it causes us greater pain than we know we can handle.
And that last bit there, about the pain—that’s the defining mark. Audentes fortuna iuuat, they say. Fortune favors the bold. In poker and many other things, it is prudent to weigh your options and consider your reach before taking the plunge. Measure your risk. Knowing your limitations will save you. You can always shuffle the deck and start again. But the moments in our lives, the commitments we make, the bonds we form, and even our lives as a whole, these cannot be repeated. Wagering anything less than everything is only meaningful to a soul that never steps out of reflection and back into the game.
We can’t afford to stoke idle hearts and regret after the fact.
I leave you with the following quote, from the brilliant Louise Erdrich. May it help you in hard times as it has me:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”