Yet another memoir from an author who is dying. Why are such books enduringly popular? Why do we go on reading them? We read them not only to learn how to meet our end, but also to learn how to live, to find and possess, if we can, some small part of the secret that eludes all of us.
Let us not kid ourselves. Let us not evade the truth that is already buried in the breasts of most of us, the truth we carry with us every day: we do not know how to live. None of us. Religion, with its divisive doctrines, is of little help to us; philosophy, with its many creeds, less help still. We hear all the time that humanity’s destiny is to grow, but grow how, grow into what? It would, in truth, be easier to live if we knew what we were supposed to become.
Perhaps, though, genuine living really is accomplished best by those who don’t quite know what they’re doing, or where they are going along the way. Yet, there’s another component in the task, too, one expressed by no philosopher, but by a man who nevertheless spent some days in a mental hospital in his youth and has had more opportunities than most of us to think things through. The singer James Taylor once wrote, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
I believe Taylor was right, not only because enjoying that passage involves paying attention to what we are doing and who we are with at a given moment, but also because enjoying the passage is more challenging than we realize, especially as we age. Too many of us hate and fear the passage of time, and either cannot or will not seize the opportunity it constantly affords us to introspect, to observe ourselves, to consider how impactful we’ve been–how comical, how brave, how loving and compassionate. Anyone who can do some small measure of these things has lived, and lived well.