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Be Alive

Quiet Sunday mornings are precious things.  This first Sunday morning back from vacation with no travel scheduled for the next week makes it even more so. A good time to contemplate picked-up pieces and solve the puzzle … like this Oscar Wilde quote:

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”

Which seems to pair well with this (recurring) observation from Seth Godin just this morning:

“A few people somehow avoid these lessons [of following the rules school lays out] and become instigators, impresarios and disruptors instead. They’re not only dancing with infinity but completely unsure what’s going to work, and yet they are hooked on leaping forward.”

There are some bold concepts to shake the complacency here. Most people try to avoid mistakes, but it turns out those mistakes are leaps forward not achieved if you don’t make them. Ironic, isn’t it? Go out on the floor and dance with infinity, or be a wall flower wishing you’d taken the risk. If I’ve learned anything in my time here, it’s that the risks can be mitigated, and the leaps are worthwhile.

That “creeping common sense” Wilde talks about is something I’ve struggled with. But I smile at the mistakes I’ve made that have moved me forward, if only a little. Following the rules, waiting your turn, deferring to others and knowing your place each serve to bring order to society. There’s nothing wrong with making the bed, holding the door for someone else, driving safely and showing up on time for an appointment. These courtesies help us leap forward too. If you don’t weed the garden your harvest will suffer. But a little bend of the rules, an occasional left turn, a break from the norm and a few more mistakes along the way offer a bit of Miracle Grow in that dance with infinity.

“… the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”

Ultimately Wilde isn’t indicting us for not taking risks (we do enough of that to ourselves), but rather, poking us to stop wringing our hands about whether it’s the right time or the right move and to just do it already. There are only so many days in store for all of us, and who cares if it turns out to be a mistake anyway? And I think of an image of a Polish man during the darkest days of World War II begging for his life, hands raised to his chest, seeking to be understood. Next to him are two other men, resigned to their fate, which is about to be the same as the bodies of other men sprawled on the ground. I felt empathy for that guy, who was caught up in a moment larger than himself, only wanting to be understood and to live another day. And he calls to me still, Memento mori! Go on, take the risks. Live your life today, as I myself cannot. Be alive.

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