You know, there is something to that. But there is also something beyond that. A fundamental insight into the experience of being alive. Every living thing that has existed or will exist shares in a basic experience – that of continuance. All have been or will be links in the incredibly diverse phenomenon called life.
While it is true that all life continues by devouring other life it is also true that it continues because of an inherent intentionality to persist. We are because our forbearers carried sparks of life that were intent on continuing. Those life forces were transferred to a next generation with a single purpose of life continuing.
It is easy, in our day-to-day lives, to lose track of this fundamental truth. We are all keepers of a fundamental flame that was kindled millennia ago. No matter how you prefer to explain how life emerged, the fact is that it persists.
As you move through your day, all that you encounter – every living thing – all sentient beings – are keepers of that flame. In that basic sense, none are privileged above others. The precious ability to continue is a common characteristic of all life.
You may get caught in the trap of thinking about you and your life narrowly. You may think of yourself in terms of nationality, gender, the epic into which you were born or any other of a dizzying range of narrowing qualifications. But this misses not only a fundamental point but an experience that is truly liberating.
The amoeba that inhabits a spot in your kitchen, the tree that you walk by every day, the dog that seeks out attention as you walk along, the person that you routinely exchange greetings with – all of these carry the spark of life. All of these are subject to the intention of life to persist.
But the shared experiences broader than even that. All life, everywhere in the universe and beyond, is subject to that same persistence. It’s not a matter of it being willed or intended by that which is alive. Life intends to persist prior to the birth of any particular variation. That intentionality will continue long after that particular variation is no more.
Such a message might seem depressing. What is the point of an individual life should only be a link in a chain that will be forgotten? This would seem a road to despair and a vision of life without meaning. But life, all life, is not like that. It not only persists but does so enthusiastically, hopefully and under the guidance of mother nature’s loving lies. It was Orson Welles who put it particularly well. Standing outside the cathedral of Chartres, he made the following observation:
Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash – the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we’re going to die. “Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. “Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.” Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.
The affirmation of life – it’s essential flowering, is the song. Beside it, all else pales. The gift that life gives to itself is continuance and you, as a unique version of that spark, can experience the joy of that gift. Certainly, your time is limited. Certainly, you’re going to die. But you have been given a chance to experience that life spark in a completely unique way. Your song will be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing!
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD