“Life is a hard fight, a struggle, a wrestling with the principle of evil, hand to hand, foot to foot. Every inch of the way is disputed. The night is given us to take breath and to pray, to drink deep at the fountain of power. The day, to use the strength that has been given us, to go forth to work with it till the evening” (Florence Nightingale).
TO LIVE — THAT IS, TO BE FULLY ALIVE — IS A TEST OF THE HIGHEST POWERS WITHIN US. The thing that can truly be called “life” can’t be reached by taking the course of least resistance. It can only be enjoyed by those who’re prepared to grasp it with decisiveness and determination. With anything less than that, we find that we’re not really living. We’re just passive puppets who’re “being lived.”
Most of us can probably sympathize with Jules Laforgue’s sentiment: “Oh, how daily life is!” It keeps coming at us, one day after another, one moment after another. Continually, continually, continually these appear, as if marching to an inexorable drumbeat. One is no sooner done with one than another presents itself before us. And every single one of these days and moments asks to be used to a good end or effect. If we default and do nothing (at least nothing worth doing), the unused increments of our lives begin to pile up behind us, creating a sad monument of negligence and lost opportunity.
So the gift of life — and it is a gift indeed — must be received properly. We must appreciate it, certainly, but beyond that, we must use it. It is to be employed as well as enjoyed. And the best employment of life is to use it defending and enhancing the lives of others, helping them to have a greater measure of life in all its dimensions.
When we live responsibly, we live with a recognition of our connection to other people, and even to the other living creatures that share our habitat. Except under rare circumstances, human life is not a solo affair; it’s a communal effort. We’re living at our best when we seek to relate ourselves rightly to the “unimaginable whole” of which we are each a part. And what a delightful whole it happens to be!
“Life is a roar of bargain and battle, but in the very heart of it there rises a mystic spiritual tone that gives meaning to the whole. It transmutes the dull details into romance. It reminds us that our only but wholly adequate significance is as parts of the unimaginable whole. It suggests that even while we think we are egotists we are living to ends outside ourselves” (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.).