There Is No Substitute for Life

Umstead Park from http://www.take-a-hike.info/home/locations/nc/state-parks/william-b-umstead-state-park

I was walking out of Wal-Mart yesterday, where I seldom shop. Seeing people in pursuit of goods at the lowest possible prices made me think. Reflecting on my shopping experience, I thought about how we often substitute material things for the love and meaning: food, mood-altering and mind-altering substances, video games, entertainment, casual sex, and so much more. In economics, we talk of opportunity cost. The cost of substituting real life for alternatives is nothing less than life itself.

My nature is always to find the good in any situation, to see what possibilities for better exist. Therefore I spent a large part of the last couple of days considering my own blessed state, for which I am humble and grateful. I ponder how and why things turned out as they did for me. I believe it boils down to two fundamental beliefs:

  1. We can usually improve our lot in life through hard work and adhering to the principles of love, faith, and gratitude. There is no guarantee that these things will ensure a happy and meaningful existence. They are, however, better than any other approach to life.
  2. We can choose to live with integrity and dignity. The words that come out of our mouths, the actions we take, and where we spend our time is what determines the tenor of our lives.

We have a saying in our running community: “Finishing last” is better than “Did not finish”, and “Did not finish” is better than “Did not start”. Similarly, no matter how we finish our lives, we are better off to choose actually living instead of existing.

The other day, my friends Martin, Sarah, and I ran along a trail, a treat on a weekday morning. I was lagging a little behind their pace. When we got to the turnaround point, I looked up and they were scaling a steep hill, unusually green with grass for late December. As they smiled at me from the top of the hill, I did my best to run up against the full weight of gravity. At the top, I could see why they were smiling: a lake awaited me.

To have run with my heart pounding, friends ahead pulling me along, only to reach a magical destination, one which I didn’t know existed, was altogether wonderful.

I have become very good at being with people who are living full, rich lives. Just as Martin and Sarah did on the trail, these others pull me along, usually symbolically and sometimes literally.

My desire for growth and challenge borders on the obsessive. It feels like a matter of life and death, and perhaps it is more than anyone could imagine. Struggle is the way of growth.

My brother died yesterday morning, December 23rd, 2017. We hadn’t been close for many years. In a upbringing which was dominated by substance abuse, his life repeated the pattern of our parents, as he died an alcoholic, homeless in his last years, and without many friends. This news was related to me by my cousin. It was in this context that I reflected on our tendency to accept substitutes for real life.

I wish my brother had been able to find and subscribe to and believe in the ability we have to determine our lives. To return thanks for the life I’ve been given, I keep gratitude always in my heart. Until my last day, I won’t accept any substitute for life.

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