Sometimes I sleep naked. Sometimes it’s because it’s hot. Sometimes it’s because I’m exercising one of the many excellent rights one has as a person living alone. Sometimes, it just feels like too much of an effort to put on any type of clothing after peeling off the ones I’ve been wearing throughout the day’s trials.
Whenever I consider going to bed without clothes on, I briefly think about what would happen if there were a fire or some other kind of accident in the middle of the night and I had to quickly leave my apartment. Occasionally, this flicker of foresight will cause me to rethink the nakedness and tug on at least a T-shirt. Other times, I say screw it (usually not out loud) and slip into bed with nothing between my skin and the sheets.
I’m telling you this because I feel like it represents the conflict we all go through every day, which is the same one that’s at the heart of this book I just read. While in the book, the main character is dealing with cancer and so her challenges are on the surface much tougher than anything I’ve ever faced, the essential question is still: we can’t tell the future, but we know it’s not going to last forever, so what do we do? Life is just one big balancing act between acting on the basis that time is fleeting and treating it like it’s somehow ours to influence.
I never liked the phrase, “Live each day as if it’s your last,” because, while yes, it’s a nice sentiment for those of us struggling with questions like should we stay at a job we don’t like or should we go skydiving, it’s just not practical. If we lived every day with no cares about tomorrow, tomorrow probably wouldn’t be all that great. But then, if all we ever do is live for the future, we’re at risk of skipping over the entire living part that’s going on right now.
So we constantly try to balance out the two. We determine whether to face each day with the mindset that because nothing lasts, nothing matters, or else because nothing matters, everything does. We can’t possibly make a decision based on facts about the future. All we know is we don’t know when or how our lives will end, but just that they will. So we consider decisions from the perception of, “What’s the worst that could happen? Could I live with that?” or, “If I don’t do this, will I regret it?” We think we’ve conquered the conflict by approaching choices in this way, but all we’ve really done is attempt to rationalize that which cannot be rationalized.
Of course, some of us probably think we have it all figured out. Some of us may be reading this and thinking, You’re wrong; there aren’t only two ways to look at this issue. To those of us thinking that: you’re right. There aren’t only two ways to describe the outcome human beings choose when presented with an impossible dilemma. But I’ve decided to live my life in a way that works for me, being ever conscious that I probably won’t get a chance to do everything I’ve planned because my life may get cut short tomorrow, but also understanding that even if I knew I would die before the 1st of the month, I’d still slide the rent check under my super’s door. Even if I think I might have to leave quickly during the night, I’ll still sleep naked. (Sometimes.)
Anyway, this book was one of those books that made me, upon opening it and reading the first few lines, sigh and smile and think, “Ah, a good one. I don’t want it to end.” And even though I spent almost the entire reading time on the verge of tears and also knew from the very beginning how it was going to end (it’s about teenagers with cancer, so), the experience of reading it was still worth it. Its beauty was enough to make the pain of going through it bearable.
And I think that applies to life in general, whether yours is plagued with cancer (literal or figurative) or not. You get to choose whether you think the beautiful parts are worth it, but if you look closely and try hard, you’ll always find those parts.
This is true even for the jaded, cynical ones of us who haven’t yet found the human being they’d die for. Characters in books make finding that person look so easy. But then, of course, once you find that person, you may live every day in fear of losing him/her. So we’re back to the original question: even if you knew you would be gone the next day, would you still love? Would you still live?
I would. I hope.