It’s a terrible thing to waste your time in this life, yet we are all programmed at the deepest of levels to live as if we are immortal. We do this, I’m sure, because the prospect of death is too frightening to stare in the face. Spending unconcerned hours Twittering or watching television or just straight up staring into space is our way of telling ourselves that death is something that happens to other people. We’ve got time to waste, baby.
I have a deep, unmanageable fear of death. It may be a product of my rather vivid imagination, but any thought of possible demises is usually enough to get me to play the entire thing out. From there comes a brief but powerful depression, followed by forced ignorance of the entire issue via this blog, or whatever I’ve got handy with which to kill some time.
Most of us have things that, at some point in our lives, we decided would define us. It might have been raising a family, or writing great American novels, or playing hockey with the Detroit Red Wings, or whatever would be today’s medical equivalent to discovering Radium. Few of us get anywhere near our ideals.
For some, this isn’t a problem. Their future self-concepts were either incorrect or were a product of the moment they were imagined in. A baby comes, and then another, and you find that the family thing was potentially what you wanted all alone.
Many – most, in fact – don’t reach any ideal at all. For the vast majority of people in the world, this is through no fault of their own. Living in the comfortable boundaries of the United States of America, we forget just how little choice most people in the world are given as to the direction of their lives. If you are one of the thousands of babies born with the HIV virus, existential questions about which vocation will define you are irrelevant. If the shop you own, your very livelihood, is burnt down in a war you did not start, your first concern is not going to be finding a therapist to work you through the oncoming mid-life crisis.
Here’s an uncomfortable fact: we have no control over our own lives. No amount of planning, self-improving or hard work will improve our chances against catastrophic collapse. I can already hear arguments forming against this. Wait. Think about this for a second. Most of what will happen in your life is based on a series of lucky or unlucky draws in which you had no part. If you have a natural inclination towards music or law, you got lucky and were born with it. If, one day, you find that you have contracted Alzheimer’s in your 50’s, you’ve been struck with bad fortune and not the consequences of a lack of judgment. Most of the things that happen to you in your life are completely outside of your control.
That includes those sometimes short, sometimes long periods where things are in your control.
Contradiction? No, and that’s why I wanted you to stay with me before getting too pugnacious. There are absolutely periods in our lives that are safe from the cruel ravages of the world. Some of us may spend our entire lives in those harbors, unaffected by the awful things that blindly claw at us. When I talk about wasting time, it’s people like me in a time like this to which I refer.
We, those who have been blessed with a reprieve from the utter crap that life can be, have perfected the art of squandering that gift.
In watching the Olympics, I’ve been struck by the dedication the best of them have. Please understand I don’t mean “winner” necessarily when I say “best,” but winning is often the result. These are people who have spent every day in devotion to their goal. To their ideal. They want to be the best at what they do, and they focused. They didn’t get to choose to have flipper-like hands or the eternal build of a 12 year old, but they sure didn’t waste the opportunity.
I’m lucky if, after I get home form my cushy desk job, I spend even an hour on my writing. That’s my ideal. My goal. I do it when it’s convenient. But I have to be honest, I’m worrying more and more. How much longer is convenience going to be a possibility? Have I wasted my time in the harbor without realizing it? Or are fears glimpses of a storm at sea, warning me to move while I still have time?