Wednesday, July 7, 2010

There Is Only

There is only this: live before you die. Anything less, anything that interrupts, impedes, diverts, diminishes, or in any way cedes authority for your life fucks you, fucks your life and wastes the one thing that is finite in this world: the time you get to storm around this planet.

Time itself yawns to infinity. You and I but yawn to the grave. Knowing this how can you refuse the freedom of responsibility, refuse the life-giving power of your name, your time, your abilities? How can you let it simply wash over you, or let it peter out? How can you refuse the love that is there for you, the love that lies unused by most men because it demands one thing from us: to not compromise it with excuses and manipulation.

If you lived to a hundred, you still die. Like Jonah you can't outrun the whale. So what are you going to do? Wheedle? Whine? Complain? Claim exception? How about this - live like you mean it.

* * *

I get to say all this because I have lived poorly; I have wasted my time on the most useless things: events beyond my control. It has been a sputtering life.

Reinhold Niebuhr, in 1934, in a sermon he preached gave the world what would later be called The Serenity Prayer and adopted by AA as their go to shorthand for their work:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

My mother kept a copy of this prayer in our kitchen as I grew up (she has it still) and she would nod to it from time to time and tell me it was the most beautiful prayer she'd ever known. And then she'd go right back to ceding the authority for her life to her mother and it struck me then, as it strikes me now, that it is not enough to see beauty or love or to desire those things; it is not enough to know the face of your enemy; it is not enough to pray for wisdom; what is necessary is the will to act in accordance with what you've learned, with what you know to beautiful or loving or wise or of great danger to your soul.

Too often Niebuhr's formulation is wistfully shrugged off as impossible, a rueful hopelessness descends as if acceptance, courage and wisdom are beyond human purview.

Fuck that. Wake up.

The full version of the prayer reads:

God, grant us the...
Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.

It is the last line that matters here. You have to use your life to live it. You have to use it up before you lay it down. Anything less is just fucked.


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