Writing our life’s story takes courage, passion

I do actually read obituaries – not because I’m getting to the age where I feel I should make some notes on my own behalf, but because I like to see how people sum up their lives when they reach the end.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Saturday, August 9, 2008 1:00am
  • Opinion

I do actually read obituaries – not because I’m getting to the age where I feel I should make some notes on my own behalf, but because I like to see how people sum up their lives when they reach the end.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “Every man’s life ends the same way and it is only the details in how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Of course, this was written from the perspective of someone who has lived an extraordinary life by any standards.

As a story-teller, Hemingway was a keen observer. He didn’t take to abstract philosophical contemplation. Instead, he preferred to write about life as it presents itself in the real world – often based on his own experiences. However, he did not glorify the ordinary life. Rather, he applauded ordinary people who find themselves thrown into extraordinary situations and rise to the occasion. In his view, life – anybody’s life – was to be lived like an adventure – enough to make it worthy of a good story.

As a counselor, I’m used to seeing people in crisis. Before they come to me, many of my patients have arrived at a crossroad in their lives. We may talk for a while about the need for losing weight, eating a healthier diet, exercising, etc. But as soon as we dig a little deeper, it becomes increasingly clear why things have gone wrong in the first place. Diets and lifestyle changes can only treat the symptoms. But it’s not just the body that cries out for help.

Often, a great amount of pain and suffering comes to the surface when people reflect on how their lives have not measured up to their expectations. Some become so desperately disappointed in themselves that they get depressed to the point where it makes them sick. It’s not only that they’ve got off track at some point along the way. It’s rather like there is no longer a track to follow, no path to pursue. It’s as if they’ve reached the end of the line, the end of their story — way too soon. When they begin to fear that life may hold nothing more in store for them, it frightens them to the core.

Dr. Walter Bortz II, a friend and former neighbor of mine, wrote in his bestselling book “We Live Too Short and Die Too Long,” that human beings have physically the potential to live healthy and active lives for well over 100 years. But he warns of the dangers of suffering a premature death that is not physical. It’s the premature death of life’s meaning without which we cannot exist over time. Living meaningful lives is as essential for our wellbeing as the health of our bodies.

You may have seen the movie “City Slickers.” The main character, Mitch Robbins, played by Billy Crystal, is stuck in his career and consequently finds himself thrown into a classic mid-life crisis. When he gives a speech at his son’s school about the prospects of life as he sees it, it gets depressing, to say the least. The last chapter of Mitch’s life, so it seems, has been written when he unexpectedly finds redemption in the course of a cattle-drive adventure with his friends and an old cowboy named Curly who follows his own drummer.

For Curly, as for Hemingway, living the “good life” – that is, a life worth living – is an ongoing adventure. It goes beyond the perks and rewards that come with success and wealth. The “good life” is lived with passion — not just once in a while but every day. It demands an insatiable zest for life itself – no matter what the circumstances may be. Hemingway’s arguably best known novel, “The Old Man and the Sea,” is a celebration of the passionate spirit that remains triumphant even in defeat.

Not everyone, of course, actually gets to experience a Safari in East Africa, go deep-sea fishing off the coast of Cuba or run with the bulls in Spain. But there’s no need for all that to make life worth living. Feeling alive doesn’t depend on particular places or extraordinary experiences. It doesn’t even require to take place in public. Many of Hemingway’s heroes are heroes within, writing their own stories in their own ways.

Timi Gustafson is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Her book is available in bookstores and online at www.thehealthydiner.com or at Amazon.com – To receive her free monthly newsletter by e-mail, you may send a request to tmg@timigustafson.com.


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
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