“What should I write about this week, Truman?” Having written well over three hundred columns for the Journal in the last few years, I occasionally struggle to come up with fresh ideas. When I find myself particularly stumped, I sometimes ask my family for help.
“I don’t know,” my eleven-year-old son replied. “Life?”
Now why didn’t I think of that?
The truth is that I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about life. I guess the philosopher in me is re-emerging after many years of alcohol-induced hibernation. Trust me; eleven months of sobriety affords a man plenty of time to think.
I think about life when my wife falls asleep on the couch listening to one of her audiobooks and appears dead to the world. She’s dead-tired from working full-time at a mentally-demanding job. She’s dead-tired from helping our middle-schooler Tiana with her math homework every evening. She’s dead-tired from being a mom to two other kids who need her attention as well. And she’s dead-tired from putting up with all of my nonsense over the last twenty two years. As I watch her sleeping, I shudder to think of what life would be like without her.
I think about life every time I tuck my kids into bed. One still likes being tucked in, one barely tolerates it, and one stays up later than me most nights. They’re growing up so fast. Next year I’ll be the parent of two middle-schoolers and a senior in high school. The year after that Alex will be a freshman in college. His room will be empty with the exception of those items from his childhood that he has outgrown and left behind. Before long, I won’t have anyone left to tuck in at bedtime. This realization about life makes me profoundly sad.
Life, my friends, is fleeting and precious. How we choose to live our lives is just as important as life itself. I wasted many years of my life by focusing solely on myself and specifically on feeling sorry for myself. My parents got divorced. I got my heart broken by a girl. My dad got drunk a lot. I got sent home from Marine Corps boot camp with bad knees. My best friend got committed to a mental institution. I got into heated, drunken altercations with people who loved me. My mom got cancer and died.
I used all of those negative episodes as an excuse to be the self-centered guest of honor at a decades-long pity party. I lashed out at people, blamed others for my misery, and failed to appreciate the plain and simple fact that despite all the bad things that had happened, I was still alive.
I now realize that every time I wake up in the morning I have an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of other people who might be going through struggles of their own. In recent years, I’ve focused on being a positive role model to not only my children, but also to the kids I teach at school. I volunteer in the community. I officiate weddings. I give to charities. I try to treat everyone I meet with respect and kindness.
But perhaps my most significant contribution to society: I write.
I write in order to make you think. I write to make you laugh. I write to inspire you. I write to enlighten you. I write because it makes me (and hopefully you) feel good. I write because if there is just one other soul out there in the universe who, like me, strayed down a dark and lonely path and is struggling to simply hang on, then there’s a chance they might read something I wrote and find the strength to keep going just a little bit longer. Maybe my words will light their way toward a brighter future. And perhaps one day they will inspire someone else.
I write because, to me, writing is life.