The affable George Constanza of Seinfeld fame once encouraged a balding boyfriend of Elaine’s that in the face of his irreversible receding hairline he should “Live dammit! Live!” Good advice for those of us finding ourselves with terminal male pattern baldness as well as struggling with the meaning of life.
Lately I’ve been contemplating whether my life is governed by fate or by luck. Fate is the idea that events are beyond our control, generated by a supernatural power. In Christian terms, we might call this Providence, the idea that God is coordinating the events of our lives or at least using the events of our lives to achieve some desired end, known only to Him. I tend to prefer this to the alternative of mere luck or randomness, because I like to think that my life is special and unique.
But what if things don’t happen for a reason, but only that things happen, and I assign a reason to these events? Or maybe it is a combination of randomness and purpose? Perhaps God is the only mind capable of making sense of the seemingly incongruent events of all of our lives. The juxtaposition of sadness and happiness, joy and lament, fear and courage, and all of these come in ample amounts unequal in their dispersal. Yet, we continue to live, persevere, eat, drink, make love, work, sleep, and repeat in between moments of celebration and mourning. Cycles become rituals and rituals become religions of explanation and truth, truths that we embrace to make sense of our existence.
You might have guessed that I’m channeling Ecclesiastics of late, a book in the Bible purportedly authored by the Solomon, the wisest man to have ever lived, yet for all of his wisdom there was much he hadn’t figured out. Maybe in one of his darker moments, he penned this, “A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead.” (Ecclesiastes 6:3 New Living Translation) Apparently, longevity and lots of children aren’t the key to happiness, but rather, “finding satisfaction in life.” When I connect this phrase to what he says about being better off to have been “born dead” then I conclude that happiness is found in living; living with all of its uncertainty is preferable to not living.
But how are we to understand what it means to live? I was reading today about the origins of the phrase Mazel tov, and I found it a helpful bit of information. It is a phrase used “to congratulate someone on a fortuitous happening in life or wish someone well.” It is marked by a kind of rambunctiousness in the tradition of the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and the ritual of tashlich or the “casting of sins.” This ceremony took place outside of the security and comfort of the walls of the city in the wilderness. It was out of the ordinary, a change of scenery, that came to be a favorite of children because it disrupted the predictability of mundane existence. Contrast this with how we typically think of repentance, a religious practice that is characterized by a “sackcloth and ashes” attitude and accompanied with much mourning and tears. Our existence is marked by enough mourning, so maybe we should celebrate more moments even those moments that involve actions that we regret. Maybe we should abandon regret all together, embracing an understanding that every event, even those we label mistakes, contributes in a small measure to the person we are today. Even Jesus observed that we shouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over the details of life, as “today is sufficiently evil.” (Matthew 6:34) Instead, we should enthusiastically abandon the fear, guilt, worry and dread and eagerly embrace Mazel Tov!
I was raised in a religion that put all of its temporal eggs in an eternal basket. Life was about preparation for the afterlife, and often in order to guarantee joy to come when one died, required denial of happiness while one lives. I was taught that great sacrifices in this life would equal great rewards in the next. But then what purpose is this life? Merely a dress rehearsal? If living is reduced to simply practicing for a performance to come, it strikes me as waste of resources. I think it is better to view every day as opening night of a show that will never end, and if so, I want to live my life in anticipation of a standing ovation. I want to be buried in roses littering the stage of my life with enthusiastic zest. I want to belt out my truth so that even those in the cheap seats have no choice but to applaud, if not the skill of my performance, then at least the passion with which I delivered it.
Or in the words of George Constanza I intend to “Live Dammit! Live!”