“And when my time is up
Have I done enough?
Will they tell my story?”
Those are Eliza’s lines in the last piece of Hamilton. It’s a line that I can’t belch out when I’m listening to all 2 hours of the play because I’m choking on my tears.
I’m always thinking about my footprint on earth. What will I leave behind to prove that my life was a life well lived. What lives will I have touched? How quickly will none of it matter? I think there is a part of all of us that we want to matter. We’ve read about Malala, and Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Sonia Sotomayor, Shonda Rhimes, etc etc etc. Glass ceiling breakers, activists, legacy builders. They are the people we admire. We read their stories and see that they were ordinary like us and some even faced obscene obstacles similar to our own. And yet they make a difference in the world. And so we think that life is about turning our experiences into fuel to also become great and leave huge footprints and leave big shoes to fill.
At least that’s what I thought life was about.
But as I grow older the more my idea has changed of what the purpose of life is.
I thought life was about becoming important and having as much influence over other people as possible when I was really naive. Chasing every title, prestigious affiliation and gold star makes you realize that you’re living for other people’s approval. Approval that you never get.
After that realization I thought life was about becoming as comfortable as possible. Big house, nice car, big yard for both and lots of traveling and good eating. But chasing money left me feeling empty too.
Then I thought life was about getting away from tragedy. Creating balance and avoiding conflict. But if you measure success by the amount of negative events you DON’T experience you will turn out disappointed and bitter. Bad things happen to good people, bad people avoid consequences, liars and cheaters succeed over honest and hardworking people. Not always, but you don’t have to look far to find an example of someone getting something they didn’t deserve (good or bad).
But back to my first thought about what life was about, making a difference in a big way. In the 1820’s when Susan B Anthony was born, there was an estimated 1000 million people on earth. Today there’s more than 7.125 billion people. Only a small handful of people get to make the kind of difference Susan B Anthony, or any of the other names we recognize, had. If life is about making a huge difference than what’s the point of life for the other billions of people?
I struggled with that thought for a really long time. Because I wanted to lead a meaningful life. What did that look like for me if I was never going to change the world?
I haven’t changed the world, but the world has changed me. When I look back at the moments that changed my life I can count with my hands the people that were first to know, and the ones that showed up and were there to celebrate or support. Sometimes people that I didn’t think cared showed up over those that I expected to be there. I made mental notes and realigned who I spent my time with. Some people have become the roots of my tree. They keep me grounded and are always there. Others are like leaves, blowing away in the fall to be replaced with new ones every spring. I’m not mad at the leaves for leaving anymore because I know where I stand and whose going to help me grow.
It’s my roots that I tend to and look after and give my attention to. I’ve been trying to grow and help my roots grow deeper and wider but I’m careful who I let in. Not everyone is meant to be a root, some people are forever meant to be leaves. But it’s when my roots are hurting that I have to remind myself, I have to show up. I have to be there. I have to mend and care.
That’s what I think about when I think about how short and precious life is. Have I been there for the people that mattered when it mattered? There will always be parties and superficial gatherings. But if someone needed me to lend them strength or a laugh, can I be there for them?
If I never save someone’s life, or never create a tool that changes the way we interact with each other and the world, if I never tell a story that helps someone change the way they think, if I never create a masterpiece of any kind I will still think life is worth risking everything over. I still think life is worth celebrating and being awake through it all to feel its pulse.
Heartbreak, loss, success and obscurity. Sickness, health, poverty, wealth, injustice and righteousness. They’re all parts of living life but not one of those things determines if you have a right to live happily and fulfilled. Life is about all the connections we make and the times we show up and the times our roots grow. It’s about celebrating a birth, being a shoulder during a loss, and constantly learning to heal and love.
I’m only 25, who am I kidding to think that I have figured out how I’m supposed to live my life? My idea about what life means will probably evolve again, but I know who matters and what matters to me. And nothing, nor no one can deter me from feeling alive. But I wouldn’t have gotten here had it not been for my roots showing me how to feel alive. To feel the aches and joys of living but most importantly to find healing and to feel love. Heal then love. Heal then love.