You cannot live your life just for someone else. So then what is the purpose of living? What is the purpose of being alive? Why were you even created out of all the possibilities of atoms and genetics that could have been formed? Why were you formed out of the inexhaustible matter of the clouds and stars that make up the universe? What gives you breath and sustenance in order to make it to the next day?
I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I ask them every single day. Especially when Grandpa was dying. He’d had a terrible stroke, something in his brain stem. We were informed that he was lucky to be alive and that his recovery chances were slim but promising due to his progress.
I remember looking at him in his hospital bed and wondering why on earth he was still alive in the first place. He was in his mid to late eighties at this point and my grandma had died almost ten years before. He lived far away from all of his children, he was stuck in a nursing home because he couldn’t care for himself, and now he’d just had a stroke that had paralyzed half of his body. Why was he still fighting? Why did he still live to see each new day?
It’s odd to ponder these things, I’m sure, when you’re at the end of your life, but even stranger to think about when you are just at the beginning and watching someone at their conclusion. My grandfather had lived for his wife, his kids, his grandchildren, his job, his favorite football team, and hunting. He had a lot of reasons to continue, despite nearing the finish line. He had lived through quite a few things. He had lived through the end of the Great Depression, watched many wars pass by, the growth of his children as well as their weddings and babies, the loss of his family, retirement, the loss of his wife, and finally, the loss of his freedom. He had braved it all. He conquered. He completed his mission.
But what was that mission? Sure, there were other people who were dependent on him to keep going and to provide, but if that had been his motivation to live, he would have died right after retirement or right after Grandma passed. Instead, he held on to life for another 8 years. And for the first few of those years, he didn’t just hold on but thrived.
When I look at my life, my accomplishments and achievements, I have not done much in comparison. I finished high school, I got a Bachelor’s degree. These things were expected of me by myself and others throughout my life, so it doesn’t feel like something I should be proud of or feel exceptional for. I spent a year overseas on mission building relationships and learning a new language but now I’m not even sure what value that year has in this point in my life. People tell me to be proud of myself, that I’m smart, pretty, kind, compassionate. But I’m left wondering, what is the point in being myself if there isn’t something in a way to show for it?
Because we live in a world where your life is only measured in certain numbers. The amount of money in your bank account. Your number of followers on social media. The number of children that you have birthed or raised. The hours you work each week. The number of pounds of gravity your body has on the earth. The value of your possessions. It’s all a competition that is measured in your opportunities, your privileges, your advantages.
Let’s do a tally of mine. I have a considerable number of pluses and minuses. I’m white. That’s a plus 5 in most areas of our society. Female, so minus two. College educated, so plus a point, but unemployed like thousands of other twenty-somethings, so take that point away again. I’m Christian, which gets me a lot of perks in many social circles, so that’s probably worth 3 points. I’m bisexual though, so that subtracts 2 points away again. My parents are affluent and I have my own car that I can use so that adds 3 points. But I have depression and anxiety so you can subtract basically all of the points and throw them all out the window because the entire system is shitty anyway.
But this is the way American society works. From a young age, I have been taught that if I can’t compete with other people and don’t have a life as “good” as theirs, then maybe my life needs to change, or worse yet, shouldn’t exist. So when I went to see my grandfather dying in the ICU, all I could think of was why does he stay? What do I have that’s worth staying?
Not what do other people see in me. Not who do I have surrounding me. Not what might my future hold.
What do I have that’s worth staying and living and breathing in the toxicity of this planet that reinforces my violent self-talk just to struggle in so many seconds of the day just to feel like I might be ‘normal’?
I don’t know.
I ask myself about this all the time, but not this directly.
I usually focus on the people around me and how they would hurt if I wasn’t a part of their lives or how much it hurts me to think that they might someday leave mine. Or I focus on the future that I could have with a loving spouse and countless children and dogs in a sunny house out by the beach.
But none of these things give me life.
The things that give me life are music and writing and drawing and pure creating. There’s only one problem with that though.
I don’t believe I have anything to offer.
This certainly has something to do with how the world tells me I have to compare. No point in being a musician because this person from college was a better singer than you and is better looking and is smarter, so give up there. Why be a writer when the world already has Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling and Lin-Manuel Miranda? You’ll never live up to them and everything you create is just a random mashup of their work anyhow. Everyone says you’re good at drawing, but they’re just lying because it’s rude to tell someone that their art isn’t of value.
These thoughts plague me every second of the day. I spend all of my time instead focusing on watching Netflix, eating, taking out my misery on my family, and making plans for the future that will never come to fruition at this rate and with this infuriating debilitating disease clouding my mind and dragging me down.
I have talked often to many people about ex-boyfriends, ex-friends, family members, and so many other people who have hurt me throughout my life. But the thing that’s hard to say out loud is that I am the person who has hurt myself the most.
Sometimes, the voice inside of my head that pushes me into failure is the voice of depression or anxiety and comes from a place not within myself but from the very pits of hellish mental illness. There are other times though where I am the one plunging the dagger into my own soul and stopping me from ever reaching true life.
Do I fight back? Do I stand up and find that reason to live and pursue it with everything I have? Is this even the right reason to endure?
I know as well that I live for God. Even when I cannot recognize the goodness or the purpose in myself, God sees it. And not in my effect on others or the things that might happen or the things I might do. But just as I am.
In that way, I suppose God is my patron. In an abundance that I cannot explain, He has certainly blessed me with a wonderful family, an amazing Sherlockian best friend, countless other friends upon whom I can depend, a boyfriend who may not understand but listens anyway, a roof over my head, a sweet yet crazy dog, food that nourishes me, able bodied capabilities, and countless other indescribable things.
While I am grateful, I cannot live for these things. They are not the reason to live because we all are, unfortunately, part of a flawed world that will ultimately, if not constantly, fail and disappoint each other.
So why keep going?
What gives me life?
What wakes me up in the morning?
Right now, the answers aren’t what I want them to be. They’re unreliable answers rooted in a world that promises things it cannot deliver.
But I will change these answers. I will fight the plagues in my brain, I will fight those who say I or other humans don’t matter, I will fight with everything I have to bring something that I value into this world.
I breathe because I still have something left to give and something left to do.
You do too.
“Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.” –“Right Hand Man”, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical
“I peaked at the Harvest Festival, Ron. Years from now, people are gonna say, “Remember that woman who came up with the Harvest Festival idea and never came up with another idea again? What happened to her? What was her name? Kim? Anyway, who cares? She’s stupid and she’s dead now.”…I need to keep working, okay, and keep pushing so that my breakthrough will happen and I will be ready for it.” –Leslie Knope, “Parks and Recreation”
Annie: “Hi, I can’t get off the couch. I got fired from my job, I got kicked out of my apartment, I can’t pay any of my bills, my car is a piece of shit, I don’t have any friends…”
Megan: “You know what I find interesting about that, Annie? It’s interesting to me that you have absolutely no friends. Do you know why that’s interesting? Here’s a friend standing directly in front of you, trying to talk to you, and you choose to talk about having no friends… I don’t associate with people that blame the world for their problems. ‘Cause you’re your problem, Annie. And you’re also your solution.” – Bridesmaids
“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.” – Gusteau, Ratatouille
“The people you love will change you, the things you have learned will guide you, and nothing on Earth can silence the quiet voice still inside you. And when that voice starts to whisper, ‘Moana, you’ve come so far, Moana, listen, do you know who you are?” – Gramma Tala, Moana