Life is neither fair nor painless.
When staring at the inevitable falling curtain of death, every minute detail of life takes on special significance. Even the idea of one person’s life proving somehow significant comes into question. What does it mean to live a significant life? Can a three-year-old’s life even be called significant?
In reading the obituary, one line struck me: “He touched our hearts, made us laugh, [and] scared us by his fearlessness…” That word “fearlessness” stirred something deep within me…like the half-remembered emotion from a day-old dream. I had lived and loved fearlessly once, hadn’t I?
The courage of children is such true inspiration because their courage lets them show themselves as they truly are with all their faults and foibles, all their love and joy. Children don’t posture; they simply are who they are. It’s only as children age that they learn to hide parts of themselves—the undesirable parts, the unpopular parts, the shameful parts. We learn to heed societal norms over our own God-given consciences, and we try fit inside the safe, little molds others make for us.
But is all of this pretense in pursuit of respect and success worth losing sight of our true selves?
By many standards, I am considered successful. I graduated from one of the top public universities in the United States. I have worked for one of the leading newspapers in my field. I founded my own company and owned my own house before the age of 30. I have published multiple books with more the way. I’ve created more than 1000 pieces of award-winning photography and art. I’ve had some of that work showcased in places like Times Square. I also count several prominent people among my friends and relatives. In short, I’ve managed to accomplish several things that not many other people have. Yet do all of those successes make me feel that I live a life that is significant? No.
As proud as I am of my accomplishments and of the respect that they have garnered me, I’ve never found the accolades all that fulfilling. I know thousands of authors who have written and sold far more books than I have. I’ve met business people who sold their first companies for unspeakable amounts of money even before they finished college. For every accomplishment I’ve made, there will always be someone else who has accomplished more. There will also be someone who has accomplished less. The problem with personal success being a measure of significance is that success is subjective.
So if success isn’t a measure of significance, then what is?
The answer lies in that little boy’s obituary: touching hearts and living fearlessly. To live a life of significance means that you must live it fearlessly in the pursuit of helping others. Of course, the problem with this is that fearlessness requires taking risks. This life isn’t a fluffy fairytale. As grownups, we have the experience to know that while life can be beautiful and joyous, it is also sometimes agonizing, unfair, and cruel. I can easily lose everything in the process of showing my true self and my using true gifts to touch other aching hearts. I risk hurting when I care.
While it’s tempting to want to go through life curled up in a corner trying to shield myself from all of the suffering, that’s not living—that’s just waiting for death. Living a life of significance means that you know your courage will take you into some dangerous places, and you go anyway. With your heart in your throat, you still serve. With a white-knuckled grip, you still pray. And with trembling feet, you still walk forward. Yes, your footsteps will falter. Yes, you will fail. Yes, pain will sometimes overwhelm you, but so too will joy. To live a significant life means that you are not blind to the thorns growing in your path. Instead it means that you choose to run down that path anyway because you understand that the only way to win the race is to push straight through the pain until you can reach the joy on the other side. If you and I are brave enough to do this, then we might just make it through the brambles and help others to hobble down the path right along with us.
Living a life of significance means living a fearless life of sacrifice.
I was reminded by the smiling faces of children how a few brush strokes made with an artist’s love can bring such joy to someone else. Every breathing moment we have on this planet can be one that propagates love or one that smothers it. No one makes it out of here alive. Consequently, how we live our lives remains the only choice we can make in the inevitability of death. Do we choose to bravely battle to touch other hearts through our best efforts or do we choose to surrender breath after breath to apathy until there are none left for us to lose?
Life is a series of breaths and I hope to use as many of mine loving others while I can. I choose to make my life significant by rolling up my sleeves, holding out my heart, and declaring that the lives of others matter. And I was reminded to do this not by some ancient sage’s words of wisdom, but by the simple moniker that a grieving family chose to describe their beloved son: “fearless.”
Thank you, cousin, for the gift. I love you. Do not fear the thorns.
The Seared Cranium Report: An Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with enchanting fantasy fiction, deep love, and vivid art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!