Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 16, 2006, Herald Journal

Being lost in space is frustrating

By LIZ HELLMANN

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Don’t you love it when someone decides to reduce your life into the simple turn of a phrase?

It’s fun to do if you are a writer. (Although, I did not write the introductory line to this column. I heard it once in a movie, but I’m sure that’s not its origin, either).

Those lovely little whimsical expressions that make readers smile and go ‘Ah, I know what she is talking about.’

Well, this one rubs me the wrong way today.

Or maybe it is the day rubbing me the wrong way, and the frustration is being taken out on this poor little ingenious saying.

Whatever the cause, the complaint is the same.

What irritates me the most is that the phrase is right.

It’s like when your mother or father warns you not to do something, but you do it anyway.

“Don’t touch the stove, Billy, it’s hot.”

With a mischievous grin, Billy decides he will not touch the stove, he’ll do one better. No one can tell him what to do.

Billy grabs the hot iron with his hand.

The ensuing pain follows, and Billy realizes that the stove doesn’t care how independent he thinks he is.

But which is worst? The pain in his hand, or the blow to his pride?

It’s a little thing called reality.

The reality of the phrase “get busy living or get busy dying” depends on whom you ask.

The health industry might see it as a good slogan for the newest campaign against smoking.

A little harsh, but an interesting angle.

However, the phrase in general seems a bit harsh when applied to living habits, not just smoking ones.

It’s this use of the phrase that boils my blood, on this particular day.

In out postmodernistic world, the idea of absolutes are almost considered in the same bin of logic as those purporting the world is flat.

One way to scientifically prove the world is not flat is to hover above it in a space shuttle, albeit, a somewhat time-consuming, expensive test.

I doubt many of us will get to experience such a feat in our lifetimes.

Likewise, the only way to test the idea of absolutes, such as this one, is to hover about them. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

We can become astronauts of our own space, studying the actions and events that become our lives.

In case I am making no sense at all, let me clarify with something we all can relate to this time of year.

That dreaded word uttered by millions a couple weeks ago, and forgotten by almost as many by now; resolutions.

This phrase suggests we are either resolute in living our lives the way we would like, or just biding time until they are over.

But, for many of us, it might be too painful a view to strap on our space suits and examine our world from afar (although a good way to quickly weigh less – at least we would be keeping one new year’s resolution).

No doubt all of us, including me, would report that our lives are a busy hodgepodge of events.

There is work, friends, family, maybe school, errands, bills, free time, cooking, and cleaning.

The frenzy begins before dawn and ends long after the sun goes down – considering it practically sets after lunch is over, if it has decided to make an appearance that day at all.

All this activity must signal that we are well on our way to living full lives.

But don’t take off your moon boots just yet, this phrase isn’t so easy to brush aside.

Notice, the word “busy” is used in both instances, living and dying.

So, we’ve established we are all busy. But are we busy living or dying?

You might say, “Who cares?”

And if you don’t, I’m jealous. Because I do. I can’t just let that little voice crawl out of my head just yet.

Maybe it’s the hangover from floating on the new year’s resolution high, or maybe it’s my type A personality showing through.

Whatever it is, I’m not satisfied yet. If you’re done caring, give me your telescope so I can take a closer look.

In anyone’s life, there are usually areas of complete contentedness. There are also sections of frustration.

Maybe your job’s great, but you don’t like your town. Maybe your family is great, but you aren’t happy with your circle of friends.

There are a million different variations.

Therefore, let’s throw out this absolute thing. Anyone can see from space that the world is round.

Anyone can see from taking a step back and looking at your life that there are the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But that’s not the point.

The absolute is, either you are living with the good, the bad, and the ugly, or you are working to change the bad and the ugly, while enjoying the good.

That is what is frustrating about the phrase “get busy living, or get busy dying” – at least for me.

It catches you in the crux, where you can’t hide.

It’s like the relentless pressure of waking up every day to discover it is New Year’s Day, and you have to renew your vow to your resolutions.

It makes you step back and realize no matter how busy you are, that in and of itself doesn’t matter.

Are you busy living, or busy dying?

We have been given the same amount of time to do both. We also have become masters in our society of filling our days with anything and everything.

But are we just going around in circles until the sand runs out, or is there some purpose to our orbits?


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