“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
And now the end is here
And so I face that final curtain
My friend I’ll make it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way
— Frank Sinatra, My Way
At a holiday party not very far from Times Square, New York, a few of us found ourselves in conversation with a large man with a large ego. He was rattling off his successes in life, his conquests in love, his options for the future. He would be the one singing My Way and believing it all applied to him. And maybe it does.
I happen to love Sinatra’s song, My Way. We used to put it on the juke box at the Worthen in Lowell, Massachusetts late in the night (back when they had a juke box) and serenade each other in youthful optimism. We believed we were already living life our way and were poised to launch ourselves into life to do big My Way things. Life teaches you compromise and concession and sometimes knocks you down a peg or two. When things inevitably go awry, does this mean we aren’t living a full life?
To live a life that’s full means to steer purposefully towards the dreams that stir our soul while adjusting our course and the set of our sails as life reminds us that we don’t live in a controlled environment. Highs and lows and the occasional nasty storm are going to have their way with us, stall our progress, pull us well off course now and then, and generally take that My Way bravado and throw it out the window. But still we may persist.
The question to ask ourselves every day on our journey to live a life that’s full is, full of what? To be meaningful, our lives must be filled with purpose and progression, contribution and growth. We grow into a full life, not by traveling a straight line from here to there, but by navigating the hazards of living. Sometimes we choose wisely, and sometimes we find ourselves on the rocks. It is nothing to die, but surely it’s frightful not to live. The only viable choice is to patch ourselves up as best we can and keep going.
But going where? That which seemed so very important in one stage of life seems less so later. Conversely, things we once never considered seem more important now. Life is change and adaptation. If status and a list of conquests are especially important to one person, for another it might be achieving mastery of playing an instrument or in writing. It may simply mean being there for others from now until the end.
Sometimes, we have some say in the matter. Mostly, our lives are ours alone to live, yet we aren’t living solely for ourselves. Nobody said it would be easy, friend. But with reflection and purpose we might just find we live our days well enough that we can say with relative confidence and more than a little irony that we did indeed, despite it all, do it our way. That shouldn’t be frightening but, just maybe, a little thrilling.