5. Accept Your Limitations — and Embrace Mortality
And now for the big one. We have to learn to accept our inadequacies and embrace the reality of death.
I know it sounds defeatist and even morbid, but this is critical.
When we fight for justice in an unjust world, impatience is the currency of the realm. We want to see justice, not just struggle for it. It isn’t an abstraction but a genuine desire for the world to be better, for pain to be lessened.
But impatience will only frustrate you and won’t help the movement.
Better to pace yourself and understand that justice is a long-term quest that may never be fully accomplished and almost certainly not in your lifetime.
Sometimes life is about harm reduction. And harm reduction matters.
Life is beautiful, but it’s first and foremost tragic, precisely because that beauty will not last for any of us, and because we often squander it when here.
James Baldwin explained this far better than I could, in The Fire Next Time, so I’ll just let him do it:
Life is tragic simply because the Earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.
It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
Did you get that last bit? Reread it, seriously.
One ought to rejoice in the fact of death?
To decide to earn one’s death by way of the life we lead?
I cry every time I read that line because it answers for me that question we all ask at some point about the meaning of life. Life is about justifying the space we took up, the resources we used, the oxygen we thieved from others who might have used it more productively.
We have to earn the right to leave this place by making use of the time we’ve been given in it. Win or lose.
That is what it means to be human.
And once we are clear on that and can let go of some of the ego that gets in our way, we’ll be healthier and happier and more useful in the struggle to build a better world.
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