Dispatches from the Front Lines

It’s been said that life is difficult. With its challenges. Setbacks. Sufferings, etc. One headache after another. They never seem to end. We try to better ourselves. We read self help books, attend courses, join support groups, etc. But we still cannot find meaning. We cannot find purpose. Our lives are empty. We are not at peace. We have no direction. We are like a ship in rough seas without a rudder being battered around. If we are to better ourselves and have a more meaningful life, we must accept and practice certain values and principles. Some are harder than others. Once we accept and practice them, life won’t seem as difficult. And we won’t be so hard on ourselves. Here are a few things that I have learned.

Be your own person. The first thing we need to learn is that being our own person will be the toughest job. Living by our values and our principles. There will be those who will try to sabotage those principles, steer us into their direction. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

We will be misunderstood.  People will take our words and actions and try to interpret their own way. Again the words of Emerson: “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Life is always changing. And we must change with the times. If we don’t, we will fall back, even regress. Actress Helen Hayes said:”if you rest, you rust.” And in the words of Goethe:”we must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves. Otherwise we harden.”

We learn more from our sufferings and failures. Pain makes us think. Question. We grow. Mature. Helen Keller said that: “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Risk.  I’m not suggesting we all jump out from a space capsule pulled by a helium balloon 23 miles up in the air or climb the world’s tallest peaks. But if we are to make anything out of our lives, we must step out of our “safety zone” and risk. Take a chance. We can’t catch fish if we don’t put our pole into the water. “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” wrote Andre Gide.

We cannot play it safe. Security is a myth. Again the words of Helen Keller: “security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure  or nothing.”

And a poem that I have saved in my scrapbook from an Ann Landers column years ago, author unknown, shows us the problem of risking. It’s called “The Dilemma”:

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out for another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk rejection
To place your dreams before the crowd is to risk ridicule
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To go forward in the face of overwhelming odds is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave. He has forfeited his freedom. Only a person who takes a risk is free.”

Find meaning and life by serving others. Alleviate someone else’s pain and suffering. And it’s been said that those who serve are the happiest. And we don’t have to save the world. One of my favorite poems about serving was written by poet Emily Dickinson:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Search for wisdom. “He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers” reads Proverbs 19:8. We need food for our bodies; we need rest and relaxation. We need food for your souls – be it religion, spiritual, discussion support groups, etc. It’s an individual thing. There is always something new to learn.

Life is a journey, not a destination. We feel if we just get “there’, all our problems will be resolved. We will be free from problems. Once we reach a certain level/plateau, we may resolve some problems. But new ones will be thrown at us.  It’s the law of life. No one is problem free. There will always be problems to work out. And if there were no problems, we’d become lethargic. Problems challenge us, strengthen us.

In this journey of life,travel lightly. “ We feel more important, have more status if we have more possessions. We are so often obsessed about our belongs. We are never satisfied with what we have, constantly searching for more.  I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote: “And the more possessions we own, the more our possessions own us.”

And the Bible says (Matt 6: 19 – 21):” Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ I believe it was St. Francis of Assisi that said take what you need and nothing more.

Few, if anybody, have it together. Few lives are to be admired. We all have our setbacks, failures, crosses to bear. And according to Canadian religion author Tom Harpur:”we are all weak including all those who are struggling to be seen as strong.”

Finally, we are either living or dying. We do not remain stagnant. As a matter of fact, if we remain stagnant, we are dying. We need to keep moving forward, risking, taking new chances. It  is never easy. 

A line from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption sums it up: “get busy living or getting busy dying.”