Life: Illumination by Death

“Life is a whore. Whatever you do, you always get screwed.”

So said my seventh-grade clarinet teacher. Traumatic? Yes, to a docile pupil with virgin ears and no real life experiences to speak of, traumatic and daunting.

Life is probably not a whore, and in many ways, one can find ways to not get screwed at everything one does. But life is a grind. One would love to sit here on a gloomy Wednesday morning and write about a vacation in St. Barts, or peer through lush photos of delicious eateries at the hottest grub joints in town and around the world. Both are great things, but 98% of the time, either life clutches your balls or you clutch his. It’s a struggle.

Some of us were not born to wealthy parents, some of us have no privileged backgrounds. Some of us had to work part-time gigs just to get through school, some of us gave up our own lunch money to feed our siblings. Some of us chowed down on ramen noodles before playing in junior-varsity basketball games, some of us gladly accepted a bucket of the Colonel’s best from a kind neighbor.

The mountain top never seems to come in sight. We climb hills with different slopes, some steeper than others. We carry different loads on our shoulders and backs, some heavier than others. We have family and friends climbing alongside us, maybe trailing us, some more than others.

There must have been a time when getting bread and water on the table was the mountain top. That achieved, one would think that there was no slope to climb, no hill to scale. But life for many of us is more than bread and water. If I’m spending twelve hours of my daily life doing something, those twelve hours beg for a cause, a cause worthy of the struggle, a cause plentifully worthy of the climb. Not all of us have such pleasures. In the end, yes, it is about bread and water. Still.

As Nikos Kazantzakis put it in his travel account of Cairo, “Nowhere on Earth have I felt such violent and sensual contact of life with death. The ancient Egyptians used to place a mummy in the center of their banquet halls in order to look upon death and sharpen their joyful awareness of the tiny flash of their own life.”

There lies a partial answer to this struggle. Twenty-somethings do not discuss death. We are, after all, in our minds, immortal, infallible beings. We take to our beds at night, assuming that we shall rise the following morning. The question is never “if” tomorrow comes, but always “when”. I dare say this naive frame of mind contributes mightily to our misfortune.

Life is most brilliant when standing side-by-side with death. The sooner one grasps the concept of death and the afterlife, the more meaningful and fulfilling our everyday lives will be. Seventy, eighty, ninety years is no eternity. Our struggles, our hills and mountains, are no eternity. Fleeting, at best. A time will come when we twenty-somethings will face our mortal ends. When that time comes, we shall hold our heads high and pronounce that our mountains have been conquered and that our struggles were worth the climb.

Think twice about clarinet lessons.

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