I worked with a man who recently took a vacation. He was known for being fit, playing golf, and being extraordinarily competent. He was with his wife, walking along the beach, when he dropped dead of a heart attack. I read about his death in the local newspaper and was stunned. He was 56.
Long-time fans of Mr. Cranky know the handle "Beast" well. "Beast" was a regular member of the message boards here at Mr. Cranky. He posted often and current readers can easily find his many posts by looking under movies that came out six or seven years ago. "Beast" was the handle of Ed Cowell. Ed was into music and writing and an attempt to describe his many interests in more detail would do him a disservice as I really only knew him as "Beast". Ed died suddenly of a blood clot on April 17, 2005. He was 27. News of his death only recently rippled through the Mr. Cranky community.
For reasons that should be obvious, I am not one to describe personal details of my life on this site, but a recent incident suddenly seems apropos. To make a long story short, I went over to the house of one of my best friends in February to return some mason jars and found him dead inside after his suicide. I had to call his mother, his best friend, and the police. I had to have a very surreal discussion with the 911 operator. "How do you know he's dead," he asked. I had to sit outside in sub zero temperatures freezing my ass off for hours while the police secured the scene and dealt with the body. To say the least, it was one of the worst days of my life. It is a situation I would wish on nobody.
In his suicide note, my friend asked a question: "Why should I live a life that brings me no joy?" That question, along with the passing of these three people, has produced quite a bit of thought on the topic of life, its meaning, and what the whole point might be. Pondering that question is basically a cliché, but I'm going to do it anyway.
It's occurred to me that believing that the point of life is happiness is a fallacy. Happiness is not only relative, but it's dramatically affected by culture and the definitions of happiness attached to material objects. One can derive as much happiness from owning a fancy car as having sex or watching one's favorite television show. I don't think that being happy or seeking happiness are the keys to living life well, though certainly being happy rarely is a cause of death.
I think that the key to living life well, to being happy, to making the most out of things regardless whether one is a professional athlete or a clerk at a gas station, is approaching and overcoming challenges of being an active participant in life as much as possible as opposed to a passive participant. More specifically, I think the key to life is how we respond to our failures, not the length of our list of successes. Life will always seem worthless to those who are waiting for it to give them something. People get both lucky and unlucky, but the one thing we can control is how we respond to the different challenges we face in life, no matter what they might be. We can let those challenges, particularly the ones at which we fail, cripple us, or we can get back on our feet, laugh failure in the face, and try again. From my somewhat limited experience, those who have the most difficult time finding a purpose in life are those who limit their experiences to the point where they no longer see opportunities around them.
Learning from failure is one of the best ways to grow as a human being. If we see every failure as a potential opportunity, then suddenly life is all about the journey and not about the destination. We're all going to die in the end anyway.
Live life well. Fail often. And to those who have passed: R.I.P.