Are you living your life or someone else’s? Ever asked yourself that question?
Silly question? And thinking it impossible to live another’s life?
Humor me. For just a few minutes, please.
From childhood, we learn by mimicking, listening, reading, studying the words and actions of others. We learn too from experimenting with tools, ideas and attitudes: Ideas, attitudes and dreams of others.
The goal being to assimilate those which fit, discarding those which don’t so that we become the human being we were created to be. To fulfill a mission uniquely our own.
God knows me and calls me by my name.…
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
It’s no small thing, figuring out just exactly why we are here, at this time, in this place, all seven billion of us. In this ‘information’ culture where we are saturated with the reality of disasters of epic proportion, distinguishing our own from that of another is no easy task. We are wired to care, to love, to want to ‘fix.’ Consequently, when faced with the unhappiness of another, or many others, our natural response is one of compassion. But always the choice looms: Of living your life or someone else’s.
Mary Ellen Oliver captures the existential dilemma in her timeless poem, The Journey:
One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you Kept shouting Their bad advice‚
Though the whole house Began to tremble
And you felt the old tug At your ankles. “Mend my life!”
Each voice cried. But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
Though the wind pried With its stiff fingers At the very foundations‚
Though their melancholy Was terrible.
It was already late Enough, and a wild night,
And the road full of fallen Branches and stones.
But little by little,
As you left their voices behind,
The stars began to burn Through the sheets of clouds,
And there was a new voice,
Which you slowly Recognized as your own,
That kept you company
As you strode deeper and deeper Into the world,
Determined to do The only thing you could do‚
Determined to save The only life you could save.