Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say, “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
Oh, but now old friends they’re acting strange
And they shake their heads and they tell me that I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
— Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now
When Joni Mitchell sang this song at Newport Folk Festival at the age of 78 this summer, you might say the song resonated more than ever. You might even call that an understatement. Life throws all sorts of challenges at us, and there’s no doubt Joni Mitchell has faced a few herself over the years. That’s living, after all, and meaning is derived from challenging and blissful moments just the same.
Mitchell wrote the song when she was 23, an old soul to be sure, but having navigated some challenging moments in her young life already. She’d given up a daughter for adoption when the father left them, as I understand it. How do you process that at 23, full of dreams and schemes dashed so early on? You either give up in despair or you get up, brush yourself off and get back to living every day. You might indulge yourself in the former for a beat, but life demands we carry on or drift away forever lost.
We must live and change every day, leaving some bits of ourselves behind, welcoming our best bits to join us on the next stage of life, and sometimes welcoming the return of old parts of our identity we’d drifted away from. Living our lives one day at a time, we tackle our hopes and dreams and illusions of grandeur as best we can, sometimes losing track of what’s important, and sometimes finding our way back to the path that feels most natural for us. Life is funny that way. We do with it what we will, and looking back, we might see how far we’ve come.
Looking around, I’ve noticed a growing collection of philosophy on my reading list. I’ve also noticed an increasing inclination for active living. To ponder deep thoughts or to step out into the world? To make the most of this living business you need to pursue both, don’t you? We don’t really know life at all, just what we perceive of it as viewed through the lens of our experiences and present circumstances. But the thing is, we can keep searching and growing, and discover what we might in the time we have.