Sunday, February 4, 2018

Enduring Our Daily Deaths

"The sharpest lesson of life is that we outlast so much—even ourselves—so that one, looking back, might say, ‘When I died the first time….’”

    -- Jessie Benton Fremont on endurance in the face of adversity, 1878

NPR’s Steve Inskeep posted this quote on Twitter this week and it resonated with what has been brewing in my own mind. I’m going to apologize ahead of time. This essay isn’t going to be upbeat. I have some seriously dark thoughts I need to process. They have to do with enduring things- why we want to, and sometimes, why we do not.

I confess I did not know of Jessie Benton Fremont and had to look her up. She lived through the American Civil War and, according to, was a political force to be reckoned with, as well as an author in her own right. Mr. Inskeep has given me another life to explore.

Although not pleasant, I can agree with this quote’s point that life is a series of deaths. We lose our youthful dreams of Santa, superheroes or magic. For homeless children, the expectation of a warm bed at night is a mirage. Many, young or old, lose the belief in love given or received. Dreams of marriage many times end in painful divorce or long-suffering unions. Careers are imagined and prepared for and while they may be begun in nervous anticipation (if one is lucky enough to be hired in the first place), many soon find themselves mired in the realities of confusing mandates, office politics, excessive or inappropriate expectations, reorganizations or downsizings.

It’s not all gloom and doom. I’ve written repeatedly of the incredible beauty we can find in life, even in tiny things. A song can uplift and inspire, as I wrote in Frisson: A Crossroad of Body, Mind & Spirit. When we have children in our lives, we can actually re-live and enjoy some of those things that may have died for us years before. Or, if we have passions we’re able to follow, we can feel immense satisfaction and joy in their pursuit.

It doesn’t have to all be about deaths. But…

The initial inspiration for this whole essay was a discussion at home where my husband wondered why companies let people go due to budgets but then in the same year, invest in a long list of things like automatic defibrillators and the training to use them. Our kids remarked that they thought the machines are required and they themselves had the school ones reviewed with them at school.

The thought of someone automatically bringing me back to life if I collapse in public didn’t fill me with reassurance as I thought it would, or should. Especially when I see so many people struggling to get by. While there are many things I enjoy and would like to continue enjoying, do I want to be brought back if my body stumbles? I wondered.

I don’t think I’m alone in this doubt. We’re eager to live when we feel valued. When we feel safe. When we feel like we matter. We never want to leave a party if we’re the life of it, right? On the flip side, if we’re at an event and it’s obvious that we don’t fit in and people are shying away from us, we’ll find any excuse to slip out. If we feel like a burden or a failure, we shrink away. I look at my life and world and I wonder. Is this party for me?

We outlast so much- even ourselves.

Being our own worst enemy- that’s what I think this part is reminding us. I see so much of this in both myself and the world. My grumblings here may be a case in point. I know I’ve made bad decisions for myself over the years and that we all have done so in a broader sense. I and we have survived until now, despite our efforts.

It can be really depressing. It can all seem impossible. I wrote about that reality, too. In Regret: A Look Back, I focused on another person’s struggles with those feelings, which led to suicide. From that piece, I am reminded of an answer.

What can we do? Endure...and connect.

Hang on and reach out. When we feel down, something outside of us can lift us up. That means we have to be there for each other. Let’s have hearts, eyes and ears open to receive those messages, as well. As the picture and quote I chose for this essay indicate, we can bloom if we endure the tyrant- whatever or whoever that may be. I have to sit with those directions, myself. I need that reminder to sink in.

So, here’s me reaching out in one way. Who do you turn to to pull you through the deaths you face in your days? What writings, people or general things convince you to keep going- to outlast the onslaught?

Share them. Here. With friends. With neighbors. We can all use resources. They can help connect us. That could go a long way in reducing the adversity we feel, and therefore increasing our ability to endure, as we move forward.


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