Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Most Important Thing

"The most important thing you have in this world is your time." -- Jor-El

Indulge me in this thought experiment if you will. You are invincible, beyond the reach of injury or disease. You can travel faster than the speed of light, appearing anywhere on Earth in at most, a few seconds. You can see past anything not shielded by lead. What would you do with your life?

Think about that deeply for a moment. Not just strong, but impossibly strong. You could push the planet out of its orbit if you so desired. Not just fast, but capable of going to any point in time. How would you use this power?

I'm sure there are a bunch of snarky answers. I'm not even sure if anyone reading this will actually take this thought experiment seriously. As humans we have a power greater than any amount of super-strength -- the power of our mind. And yet, even with this power, we will someday die. Our lives will end and it will be no more.

My expected lifespan is somewhere around 85. Let's be generous and adjust it to 95 because I only know of 3 or 4 people in my life with what I'd consider healthier lifestyles than me, and because my family has a tradition of longevity. That's 34,675 days of life I can expect. Not a million. Not a hundred thousand. Barely half-way to fifty thousand. That doesn't seem very much at all does it? And more than that, I've already spent more than a quarter of it.

I don't have much time left.

So what will you do with your life?

Don't worry, this isn't a Jehovah's Witness method of evangelism. I won't tell you that the way to stop worrying is to have eternal life by doing whatever it is they do. That is quite possibly the last thing I want to say. Have you ever noticed that if you're given a project with an indefinite deadline, it'll likely never get done? What do you think will happen if you were then given infinite time and space at your disposal? Won't you do so much less than you are now?

Last year, I and one of my closest friends sent each other a list of ten goals that we wished to accomplish in 2009. I wrote in that e-mail "Most people grossly overestimate what they can do in one year and severely underestimate what they can do in five." Consider New Year's Resolutions. How many times have you made them? How many times did you keep them? But consider 5-year spans. 5 years ago, I was graduating college. I was applying to grad schools. I was taking on a dead-end job that I had no real desire to go to and only attended because it was the first thing available. The things I did, the things I believed, the intentions I had... was that really where I was after 21 years of life? Yet, I look at myself now and it doesn't feel like a 5-years difference. It doesn't even feel like the same life.

And you know what else? Year by year, I'm picking up steam. I feel the gears in my mind inexorably turning and grinding. Determined. Focused. I plow forward through time, each moment richer than the last. And it's largely because I realize how fleeting all of life is. What is it that I want to do? I want to realize the full potential of humanity. It's a goal with infinity as the end-point. But as one of the quotes that continues to inspire me goes, "Goals aren't necessarily meant to be achieved. Sometimes they serve as targets to aim at."

For me personally, I want to see this in my life. I want to see how strong, how enduring I can get, how much I can learn, how much I can share and how deeply I can feel. I want to see where the outer limits of human existence are. Why do I fight for justice? I fight because I don't think I should be alone in my journey. I fight because I think that as long as people suffer as victims of slavery, of poverty of disease, that I won't reach my potential, because I was meant to live in community and they are my community. If I ignore them, I would be someone strong and smart, but I think I would have given up a critical part of my humanity. And also it's because I believe that these abilities exist for a reason. What good would strength be if I never had to carry anything? What good would my spirit or mind be if I had no one with whom to share it? And more than that, how could I reach my full potential as a human if I don't understand life from the perspective of those who suffer? They are neither charity cases nor damsels in distress awaiting my knightly self. They are human beings with their own lives. And because of that, the most valuable thing they can give me is themselves. I would be honored to receive it.

So little by little, I want to live in time rich and full. Not the vacancy of empty movements of hands along a circle, a guillotine falling in slow motion, the life of a person aimless and purposeless, but the kind of time and life that is proper to a human being, conmeasurate with the powers and abilities that they have been gifted with.

Let's go. Clock's ticking.

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