One Life to Live
July 16, 2013 § Leave a comment
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time.
I read these words every day as they’re permanently written around my wrist. As I get older, the meaning of the words change.
When I first got the tattoo–I must have been only 18 or 19 at the time–the phrase encompassed a deep-seated obsession with the intense pain of loss that comes with mortality, with humanity. I struggled throughout my childhood but especially in my teenage years with the knowledge that everything I see will one day be dust, that every building will eventually be demolished, that every car will eventually break down, that every person will die. Everything we see is swirling in its own temporality, and in some ways, absolutely nothing matters.
I struggled particularly with depression stemming from my preoccupation with the inevitable death of everyone I knew and loved. I’ve never really been afraid of dying, since there isn’t much you can do and it’s going to happen at some point so you might as well accept it, but when it comes to thinking about those nearest and dear to me, it knocks the air out of my lungs every time I try to imagine what it will feel like to get that phone call, to know that they are no longer in the world, to know that somehow I will have to find a way to live without them.
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time. Everyone dies.
I’m a very avid atheist. I think when I was a kid I really wanted to believe in God. They’re nice thoughts, thinking that “the journey continues,” that everyone who dies will be reunited with me on the other side, that everything I do has been predestined and someone is always watching over me. But I don’t think I ever really believed it. As my childhood and early adulthood progressed, I became increasingly resolute in my non-belief, though I claimed for a while that I was agnostic since God couldn’t be proven or disproven, so it was kind of a moot point. In my adulthood, I’m absolutely atheist without even a trace of doubt.
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time. Everyone dies and this is it. There is no afterlife; all we have is this time, the seconds that pass when we are still breathing.
Once I got to college, I realized people make mistakes. Good people do terrible things. I did terrible things. I know I’m a good person, but I’ve been on a long, uphill climb for years now trying to find a way to forgive myself for the things I’ve done that hurt other people. I’ve been on a long, uphill climb for even longer trying to find a way to forgive myself for all the times I’ve hurt myself. It’s hard to move forward when I know how my self-destructive nature is in such a constant tug-of-war with my better self, the self that wants to live without regret and to exceed all expectations. Self-destruction comes so naturally.
I used to be very absolute about a lot of things in life. *This* is wrong, *this* is right. I’ve learned there are a lot of gray areas. It is impossible not to make mistakes. This is the first time I’m taking a standardized test, learning to drive, turning 18, signing a lease, falling in love. Every day that we exist, we are living it for the first time. I’ve never been 25 before; I’m doing my best while flying by the seat of my pants. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants. Everyone will make a mistake somewhere down the road. Everyone will hurt someone whether intentionally or unintentionally. Everyone is learning how to live life and everyone is doing it for the first and last time. What is crucial about understanding this concept is sympathy. We have to understand why people make mistakes, we have to understand where we went wrong. And the most important outcome is that we learn. We learn why someone did something, we see their hurt and pain or confusion, we hear their anguish, and we hope to hear that they know how they went wrong. What separates the good people from the bad people are a genuine sense of remorse, an intent to understand what happened, and a willingness to learn from those mistakes. I’ve made terrible mistakes. I’ve hurt good people. I am trying my damnest to understand, to sympathize, to forgive, and to learn.
Alive for the first time, alive for the last time. Everyone makes mistakes. There are no dress rehearsals, no do-overs, no time-outs or pause buttons. Every day is the first and last time we will live that day. We’re only human and humanity is a flawed, tragic, sometimes beautiful state of temporal existence.
Self-doubt is a dangerous thing. Every decision you make will change the outcome of your life and that’s a hell of a lot of pressure when you only get one shot at those decisions, at those moments in time, because if you make the wrong one, you’ll never really be able to get back what was lost. Things will have changed and the decision will have inherently changed as well, even if on the surface it looks the same as it did when you first had the choice.
With most big decisions, I rarely have self-doubt. I’ve got a smart gut (stranger words never spoken on this blog!) and I trust it even if I secretly think it’s a little off it’s rocker sometimes. I like those long drives between states following the realization of those big decisions because I have the strongest feelings of peace and hope, knowing I did the right thing no matter how hard it was, two feelings that are rare in my rather tumultuous emotional existence. My gut always knows what’s right for me and I’ll follow it even if I feel I need to arm myself with goggles, a poncho, or a gun first (figuratively-speaking).
As I’ve gotten older and realized more and more how right my gut always is, I have to wonder what the hell a “gut feeling” or “instinct” really is. It is some strong emotional expression of what my un/sub/consciousness can’t verbalize? How can I have this feeling that seems so removed from my rational mind? How can my emotional instinct know what is really right, what is really best for me down the road? Or am I merely following a chemical reaction that may in fact be dooming me because no one is guaranteed a happy ending though we all pretend that there is one out there just waiting for us to find it.
In a month, I’ll be looking back on the last year, when I made the decisions to leave not one but two men who loved me, which is really all I’ve ever wanted. But timing is everything, isn’t it? I’d outgrown Alec’s love, wanting something with more passion and romance, something bigger and brighter. I left a stable life in DC, a generally happy life but one that would have left me with an empty, unsatisfied feeling over time. With Mark, I wasn’t ready for the passion and romance, for the intensity of being so important to someone else. It was something I always thought I wanted, but it is clear that I’m not ready for it, that with my baggage and issues, I may never be ready for it.
This is the first time I actually deeply care that I’m leaving a place. It hurt to leave Alec and to leave DC, but I’d had a while to come to terms with it and I was ready to abandon the city for now, to move out and move on, to move forward while putting all the bad things that happened there in the past. Not much bad has happened here in Birmingham, in fact there’s been a surprising amount of good. I’ve got a stable friends’ group for the first time… maybe ever. My family is close and always excited to see me, always making time for me. The city is familiar and manageable, the weather tolerable, the superficial easily brushed aside.
But my gut says I’ve got to go, so go I will. I know that I will never be able to come back to this moment and change my mind, reverse my decision. Even if I come back, the balance and harmony that I feel in this time in my life will be gone, will have shattered, because everything changes as time progresses and life will move on for me as for them. This moment will be gone and the decision will be inherently changed.
I’ve never doubted my decision to leave and I doubt I will, but I am recognizing more and more as the date looms near how much pain this choice will cause and what I am giving up in the process. There is nothing about life that is easy, there will always be a give and take, a system of favors and sacrifices. I’m sacrificing a lot in this stage so what I need to remember, what I need to keep reminding myself of, is that everyone makes mistakes, nothing is ever permanent, life and time go on, and no matter what happens, I was and still am loved.