One of the plates in my personal armor is the boast that I am indestructible and will live forever. I've had my fair share of scrapes with my demise including being told I was definitely not a long term prospect for this mortal coil and the fact that I look anywhere from five to ten years younger than I am supports the notion.
I know I'm not indestructible. I know that I will die just like every other being on the planet. I refuse, however, to live my life like I know these things.
Like Dylan Thomas (without the substance abuse problem) I refuse to go gently into that good night. I reject the idea that safety and comfort are the goals of life. I believe that survival is only the first rung on the ladder of truly living out your potential. The rest of the ladder, the one that takes us from animal to something more Icarus-like, is based on risk. And failure. And reward. No believer in a higher power, I have to believe that we are made to exhaust ourselves with the possibilities of fully embracing the window-slice of time we have.
Granted, as the years take their toll (and the toll gets higher as The Road gets longer), the energy to risk on a daily basis decreases. The ability to lift the heaviest of obstacles becomes weakened by Time and Age. The dragons one tilts are no bigger or more daunting than the dragons of your youth but the sword is heavier and the stamina is sapped. And yet...fight until the last breath leaves the body.
Battle against conservatism. Battle against irrelevance. Battle against obsolescence. Build coalitions of people who can find compromise toward broader goals than merely their own myopic worldview. Build cathedrals of stone to buttress against the violence and rage of men. Build skills to further the yearning for a place of equity for all.
A whole segment of my generation has given up, content to be locked into jobs they cannot stand and fearful of the siren song of sex and adrenaline. Happier to have a trans-fat free Red Lobster biscuit than to howl at the moon in the nude, this segment is lost to the 4/4 time of the Conformity March. Heads down, eyes cast at their feet, hoping that no one really notices how sad and desperate their lives have been traded for, these men and women are simply wishing that they die in their sleep without realizing that they already snuffed it.
How to escape this fate? How to avoid the slow creep of apathy? How to jump the rails of this fucked organic choo-choo train destined toward a death embrace long before Death even fucking WANTS us?
By the time a human being is in his or her 80's, the opinions of others and judgments of the crowd are meaningless. And yet the fear of Death and the regrets of a life half-lived haunt these octogenarians; the pain of movement and the lack of waking space threaten to eclipse the hours left. Before a human being has crossed the threshold of his or her eighth birthday, the concerns of the masscult are increasingly important but the fear of Mortality, Regret and Injury is practically non-existent.
How to escape?
Embrace the fearlessness of the child - live as if you will never die and risk as if you are indestructible. Likewise hold fast to the nonchalance of the elderly when it comes to the opinions of others - live as if those opinions are basketballs and you are an armless child unable to catch them as they are thrown and they bounce off your chest and you shrug a devil-may-care grin.
If I am to fully embrace the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this holiday set aside to memorialize and commemorate the man, it is to see the outrage and bitter pain of his life in contrast with his pragmatic approach to change. I believe the man knew he was walking on a razor's edge for most of the last of his short life and he walked it fearlessly and without hesitancy. He had a dream as he said and that dream was worth any sacrifice he felt required to make.
Someone I love dearly told me that forever is today. And tonight. And the next day. And the next night after that. And the next. And the next. As I translate this, it seems to me that forever is TODAY. Live today as if it is forever and that worrying about potential pain or death is the largest waste of the spark of breath you have today.