It’s a proverb. It’s axiomatic. We all know it to be true, somehow, deep in our hearts, that life happens to us rather than the other way around. There must be a natural law to that effect, that while we plan and work and follow the rules, fate’s getting ready to throw a wrench in the works.
It’s not really like that; it just seems that way sometimes. Thing about our perceptions is, they’re governed by our experiences, our memories. And the way we’re put together, the negative memories stick with us longer; they’re more real to us, and it’s from them that we learn the lessons that make us into the people we become. It’s called the power of negative reinforcement; if you like, you can read up on it.
The older people are, the more cynical we can get, and I think that’s the reason: we accumulate bad experiences because the bad ones don’t want to fade.
There is no vengeful fate; there doesn’t need to be. After all, some bad things are bound to happen to us all in life. It’s just a matter of time before each of us gets sick. Most of us will grow old and feeble; most of us will lose function and ability as we age; most of us will know disease or chronic pain. There will be good days and there will be bad days, and the things we accomplish will often not be the ones we planned to.
That’s the way life works, and then, eventually, each of us is pretty likely to die. (I’m not, mind you; I’m immortal. At least I am so far, and so long as that works I’m going with it. But I’m pretty sure you’re screwed.)
Still, just because you’re gonna die some day, it doesn’t mean your life has to be spent focused on it, or on all the bad stuff. Our good days will outnumber our bad; if we work at them, our achievements and accomplishments will outweigh our failures. If we must indeed die, some of the things we do may well live on after us. And even were that not true, there is honor to be found in struggling to make it so, to make meaning.
Life can be pretty good, come right down to it. That’s important; don’t forget it.
Then too, we tend to spend our lives frivolously, on the nonessential, the unnecessary, on things that are not true obligations but that we would never consciously choose to do of our own free will. We fill our days doing stuff that’s not fun, nor effective, nor interesting, nor even diverting. It’s true that there are people who enjoy mowing lawns; I am not among that number. Hoeing another’s row isn’t my cuppa either; I don’t object to hard work, but I prefer to accomplish something worth my time.
Thoreau spoke of this at length; I have here a short excerpt, but if you wish you may certainly read more; I recommend it heartily.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”
(from “Walden, or Life In The Woods”)
I don’t actually think you should go live in the woods. You’ve probably got a job and a mortgage and a car payment, and it’s bad form to just up and drop them all. But on the other hand, reducing life to its essentials and learning how to live it is a worthy study. If you’ve only got one life to live, you ought to pay attention to how you’re living it, and going to the woods is a tried and true method.
And in the mean while, as you’re gong to your nine-to-five and saving up for that Florida retirement you may never reach, I urge you to do one thing; I urge it in the very strongest terms: Live for the good days. Focus on them; concentrate; remember. Make them the best good days that they can possibly be.
Because eventually, shit will happen. And after it does, you don’t want it to be the only thing you’ll remember.