Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Life Is Not a Punctuation Mark

I had this major epiphany the other day. Part of me wonders if I am excruciatingly slow on the uptake not to have realized this before.

I think I have always thought of "life" as a series of events:

"When I turn five, I get to go to kindergarten."

"When I turn 13, I won't be a little kid anymore. Maybe I can start using makeup!"

"When I turn 18, I won't be a kid at all and I will have to vote. What if I mess up and choose the wrong person?"

And of course, everyone has their "When I...." moments.

"When I get married...."

"When I buy my first house...."

"When I get a dog...."

"When I have a baby...."

"When I go to Africa......."

"When I take over the world..."

"When I figure out how to properly blow dry my hair...."

No? No one has that last one as a life goal? Whatever. You lie. Everyone wants to know how to blow dry her (or his, I suppose) hair properly.

My point is this: if you approach life from the point of view that you are living it only when you have achieved that milestone, and the next one, and the next one....you aren't really living life at all.

Am I just sounding super obvious here? Did everyone else know this but me?

Those milestones, those goals, are just the punctuation at the end of a sentence. They are exclamation points, questions marks, periods. They aren't the story. The real story is everything that happens in between. The real story is the words filling up the page, not the marks that end the sentences.

How absurd would it be to insist that the heart of a book lies in the placement of its periods and question marks?

No: the heart of the book, of the story, lies in the magic of the words.

When you think about life that way, it makes walking to the store rather important. Walking to the store isn't merely to get a chicken so you can impress your cute co-worker, so you can date him, marry him, and then have his triplets.

No. Walking to the store is a whole page unto itself. It's something that must be lived through - and why not joyfully? - on the way to whatever punctuation mark you come to next.

In a way, this makes everything kind of important, because everything you do is your life, and you only get one chance. I'm not saying that you get all hyped up and nervy and act as if on every choice rests the future of the free world. Oh no.

But what I am saying is that whatever you are doing, whatever you are in the middle of: this is life. So enjoy it. Love it.

And stop trying to find the next exclamation mark. Just settle for hopping to the next word.

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