The Dying Leaf Is The Most Beautiful

“Life isn’t so great.” A friend says.

“I’m sick of people trying to be cheerful about everything. Trying to pretend their lives are great and perfect and posting that all over social media. Rather than presenting themselves and their lives as they are. In all their complexity. With all their sides–good and bad.”

And she’s right. Sometimes life just sucks. The weather turns, and you’re stuck without an umbrella, drenched in a downpour. Sometimes love is wasted on the wrong people. Sometimes your uglier side wins out over your better self, and you hurt people you love. You try to become better and end up back where you started.

And you can keep trying to become better, to not hurt your loved ones. But we are all of us human, and that ugly side isn’t going away. You have to learn to live with it. The fear, the anxiety, the darkness–it’s always there. So is the light–but if you focus just on that, to the exclusion of everything else, you fail to experience your full humanity.

The good are not always rewarded. The bad are not always punished. The kind-hearted, gentle people are not always loved as they deserve. The selfish, cruel people are often the most popular. Here is life. As it really is. And my friend is right to plea for a more honest recognition of it.

But I tend to view the cruelty and the kindness, the goodness and the badness as indistinguishable. Or perhaps, more accurately, as porous–one flowing into the other. Like seas, perhaps: freshwater and saltwater, and the most interesting things happen at the border between these two–where they blend together. Where does the saltwater end, and the freshwater begin? We all contain all of it, and sometimes to be cruel is to be kind, as Hamlet says. Human morality and judgment is often more about motive and intent than the action itself.

And the highest end of our lives isn’t happiness. It’s getting back up off the mat every time we’re knocked down. Not because we believe it’s got to get better. Not because we even believe in happiness. But because we’ve got some fight in us–some life. That electric spark that goes when we do. Enough to pick ourselves back up and go at it again. To have a little girt. To stand on our own feet, determined to take life in both hands and claim it for our own.

Every bit of it.

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