For me, dying and living is not about mortality, but about the moments within ones life. And so, there are a thousands ways to live, even when faced by the greatest of adversity (and to be clear by ‘greatest’ I mean things that happen to you and the people you love like breast cancer, or death of a love one, or illness, exhausting poverty, assault, rape...fill in the blank). For me the essence of choosing life comprises of two elements: one, that I chose to reach for more than myself and second, that I get up literally and metaphorically (when I stop getting back up, then I’m dead). I can’t give much advice about what to do in face of a good job, social respect, and excess of money and the close network of friends and relations; I suppose these situations can present their own problems since a lot of people with these situations still split up or are unhappy. If someone would like to drop a load of money on me, I would be happy to report on such problems as they arise. For the rest of us, there might be some sense of snatches of happiness between God/life using us as the ball in a cosmic ping pong game.
I do not believe in facing adversity well, or having a stiff upper lip. I find terror, whining, loud laments and anxiety to be quite cathartic. I tried the “struggle on in silence” thing but found that no one really cared, least of all me. What I did find was the separation between becoming a self obsessed, depressed and consuming annoyance to myself and others and being human was simply in whether I could step back from myself, just a little bit, where I could choose to reach out to others. This usually comes in the form of a joke. Or a question about another’s life? Or both. I have to admit, that sometimes, overwhelming terror can SEEM like a joke; for instance when I start questioning the anesthesiologist before an operation that they did actually finish their courses right? And they did well at them? And they got a certificate, one made of paper? And MOST of their patients survive? I usually have the entire surgical staff in stitches.
There are those times when life is pretty awful and painful which I call “falling down”. And it really doesn’t seem like there is any particular point to going forward. And for me, there is a realization that going on, regardless of any particular meaning it might have to me that day or minute, is a choice, an affirmation that I believe in getting up, in moving, against adversity toward a future which can be unseen, and unknowable. But that I take on faith it is better than wherever “here” is. I am reminded by a quote from Zenna Henderson’s book Pilgrimage, the best description of those moments when one has well and truly fallen face down in the shit of life:
"There is no reason to go on. I could stand it when futility wrapped around me occasionally, but don't you remember? Remember the morning I sat there dressing, one shoe off and one shoe on and couldn't think of one good valid reason why I should put the other shoe on? Not one reason! To finish dressing? Why? Because I had to work? Why? To earn a living? Why? To get something to eat? Why? To keep from starving to death? Why? because you have to live! Why? Why? Why!"
I would say the answer to “Why?” is that joy and happiness for every person is just around the corner. I would, except that I promised to try optimism, not a frontal lobotomy. How about, because, even incapable of finding any pleasure in yourself, it is still capable of giving it to others. This is why choices are made; choices to get out of bed, shower and go outside, choices to not drink or take drugs as an escape, choices to visit someone, to write a note to someone, to show up to support someone, to help someone. And not even because they deserve it; these choices are an affirmation that my life is more than what is going on with me. I do not have a sunny disposition, or a naturally bubbly personality, but I will, occasionally, ask you, sincerely, how you are. Indeed if I ever ask you, you can know that I genuinely want to know how you are, that I have no interest in “fine” or “good” because I had my social niceties sandblasted off long ago and would only ask if I genuinely for at least a few seconds, cared about you. Some days, that’s as good as it gets. Which to me, is choosing to live.