“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.”

I came back from a work trip a week ago and have finally had some time to myself. I find that not having a regular schedule that’s packed with activity does not work well for me, even though having said schedule exhausts me so. That which exhausts me sustain me. How strange.

But that isn’t my point. I read John Green’s brilliant novel, ‘The Fault in our Stars’ and was completely taken by how well this young adult novel dealt with the themes of dying and living. The latter theme resonated with me further, though, because that’s what we have control over ultimately, isn’t it? Which brings me to my point:

We may not be able to choose how we die, but we do have power over how we live.

Sounds trite, but it’s the one thing I find hard to deny. But one may look at this and declare that living surely is easier for some than others, and isn’t that unfair? Look at everyone’s lot in life. Observe the differences between them, and tell me you don’t think that life is gravely unfair for those who go through trial after trial, challenge after challenge. It is an undeniable fact that some people are beset with great difficulty, while the rest of us have it easy.

But perhaps there is something tragic about not having to labour through challenges like our Herculean counterparts. Isn’t one who has tasted neither failure nor inadequacy that much more likely to become vain and complacent? There is something humbling about being challenged: knowing that one could fail and not be the person one thought one was; or fail and cease to be, period. Being faced with one’s mortality and finitude can be that kick in the ass that makes people begin to make that finite mortal life worthwhile. When you know that life could get you down this time, you realize that you need to work that much harder to make sure you show life who’s boss. You don’t go down without a fight. You realize that you need to be stronger, better, more worthy of what you have, and more worthy of those who love you.

On the other hand, those who carry on in life with the false belief of their invulnerability and immortality — sure, we know we will die eventually, but do we know this at a fundamental level? — are that much more likely to take life’s gifts for granted, to have a sense of entitlement that blinds them from the value of what they have (but could not have, which they don’t really realize). And to go through one’s days thinking that one has one day more, that one has done all that one has to do (which is not very much, after all, I deserve all I have, innit?), that one is the best that one can be simply because one was born this way and is therefore, perfect… well, that’s a recipe for untapped potential and trivial pursuits. And that is tragic because the You you could have been did not come into existence.

If your life stops midsentence, wouldn’t you want that sentence to be a meaningful one? In order to make that sentence as meaningful as it could be, wouldn’t it help to know that you would someday run out of sentences? Someday the words will not come

But…

Perhaps the existential Herculean labours that are so life-giving are not limited to shitty circumstances. Some of us seem to have easy lives but perhaps the challenges lie deep within. Simply put: Maybe some of us are just not as good as others, and overcoming that lack of goodness — not letting the void, the nothingness take over — is our labour. And how triumphant one will be — as triumphant as he who conquers the shitty situations life gives him, maybe — when one sees these unique challenges for what they are and fills the lack by becoming a better, stronger person instead of being a toxic life-sucking presence in others’ lives.

This sentiment is summed up in a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

So the second point in my meandering meditation is this: The labours that we need conquer may not be the same and some of us may have more obvious trials than others. But the end point is the same: regardless of what labours you have, or where you begin, or even where you end, what matters is how we face these trials. The eventual result — did we win? did we lose? — doesn’t matter so much because real triumph — true living — is not in the ‘what happened’ but in the ‘how did we get there’.
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