So, the story goes…there was an old man who lived out the rest of his days in his old tattered reading chair following the death of his old wife. He did not accept visits from family and never left his home again, even for a quick hand of bridge with his friends at the park. He was dusty, sad, and soon the old man died too. “He really died when she did,” the town’s people lamented after his death.
The default interpretation of this story is that the old man died simply of a broken heart; he was a husband who was not able to find a life, without his love, worth living. My interpretation is slightly different. I see this tale as a warning, a warning that a lonely and empty life awaits those who fail to die living.
If asked, my college friends would probably say that the thing they remember most about me is my frequent usage the phrase, “come on…you only live once”. I single handedly breathed new self-serving meaning into this otherwise old adage. In an effort to alleviate any guilt that I might feel after indulging in careless and reckless early 20-something activities alone, I used it to lure accomplices. Luring light weight Lenny to also hang upside down above a frosty, frothy keg of brew and cajoling goody-goody-two-shoes Jenny to skip geography class for a day of sunbathing and fishing for fellows on the beach–for example.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was really on to something, just a little imprudent in my approach. I now know that each and every time I coaxingly pleaded “come on…you only live once”, I really intended to remind the guilty couch potato in all of us to never hamper the ability to enjoy life. Though my college usage of this shrewd life philosophy was slightly undercooked, for all that its worth, I did enjoy every minute of my college life. If I had died in college, every bar, bathroom stall and downtown dance floor in town would agree that I would have died living.
Thankfully however, as I have matured, so have my conceptions of the kinds of risks that truly lead to…a mature enjoyment of life. Hangovers and irresponsibility aren’t really what I mean. Die living means never passing up a tempting job offer just because it’s 3,000 miles away. Die living means running a marathon just because you want the T-shirt at the end of the race and because your bikini body will rock–even if only for a month. Die living means loving those that you love every minute of every day so that the last thing they hear you say every time is “I love you”. Die living means bungee jumping and dancing at every opportunity even though you have two left feet. Die living means taking risks, taking chances, accepting dares, being really silly and letting go of your inhibitions: laugh out loud during a steamy sex scene in a movie theater, yawn and snore at the opera or at church and even decide not to wear underwear anymore, ever.
So, come on…you only live once…pick a flower behind the fence, move to Illinois just because it was the state that took you the longest to learn how to spell, grocery shop with your eyes closed and let the outcome of a coin toss decide your vacation destination. I see the value in following your instincts and listening to your intuition, but I believe in acting upon your non-harmful-to-others impulses; after all, if your parachute doesn’t open, at least you died living.
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