So it goes.
That line is repeated 106 times in Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five. It’s used as a thematic device to signal death. Whenever someone, or something dies, it’s followed by that phrase; it’s the death rattle for us all.
That phrase is absurd; it doesn’t show compassion and completely distasteful when it comes to death. You can ponder “Every life is precious, why would he ever trivialize something like that?” If you weren’t required to read the book in school, do it and you’ll find out.
Certain life events make you look back over your existence and you question everything you’ve done or should’ve done. In this existential moment, you’re faced with hard questions and even harder answers. Have I done enough? Am I happy enough? Have I made an impact in someone’s life? And you do one of three things: You don’t change, you decide to change, or you freak out.
If you haven’t experienced this feeling yet, don’t worry, you will. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day it will hit you hard between idle thoughts and you’ll wonder why you didn’t have this feeling before. Soon, it’ll engulf your entire subconscious and that’s all you can think about. It’s this concept that many forms stories in entertainment are based off of since it’s such a universal concept. I bet there’s even been a Roseanne script or two if you dig hard enough.
By the time you read this, my grandmother passed away. So it goes. The details aren’t important, her heart stopped and she was in the hospital yesterday on life support. Her three daughters were there by her side as she passed this morning.
My grandfather, her husband, passed away 10 years ago and I had fond memories of him. Of course when you’re a child you have a very jaded view of your grandparents; they were the ones that watched you as you showed them cannonball after cannonball into their pool, let you stay up late to watch Arena football, went fishing with you off the dock because that’s the only place you can go.
But as you get older, it’s the memories of them not being there that start to stick out the most. The absence from your high school graduation. Sharing a beer while watching your team takes on his team. Being able to share in one of the happiest days in your life, your wedding. Holding their great-grandchild.
It’s here that you’d expect to see some cliches: carpe deim, live every day like it’s your last, dance like no one is watching. Advice is for the people left behind not for the ones that move on. Dying is a very selfish thing to do since you’re not the one that has to deal with the aftermath. It doesn’t matter what religion you believe in (if any at all), but it doesn’t change that the person as you know it is gone, and you’re still here.
So, yes, I’m going to be giving you advice. It’s something my grandmother taught me without ever actually teaching it to me. And, like always, I’m going to go a roundabout way of doing it.
The most precious resource we have is time. We don’t know how long we have, and everyone’s amount is different. You can always make more money, you can make friends, but you can’t make time. It’s with this knowledge that we come to appreciate life. Either we don’t know what we have until it’s gone, or we do know and that’s why we love it even more.
So the logical conclusion to get from this is what was stated above: carpe deim, seize the day. As it was so eloquently put in the serious Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society, one must grab the day and not let go; you have a limited amount so do what you must. Obviously that saying doesn’t work for all people, since not all of us are scientists and politicians trying to make lives better. My grandmother took a different route.
Even in her late 70’s right before today, she worked at three elementary schools as the music teacher. When she was young, she loved to sing, and had a great voice. She used to be in musicals as part of the local theater, which some of that passion was passed along to my mother (And which is why I know songs such as 76 Trombones and I’m so Pretty). Every year, my grandmother orchestrated a large Spring pageant at each of the schools she where was teaching. Each of the grades would do a dance or routine to a musical number the she choreographed depending on the theme to the pageant.
In the later years I would help her find the music that she was looking for. She told me what the theme was and we’d go through music and select something with a good beat that she could get the 1st graders to dance to; they were the hardest ones to keep under control, but she was always most proud of them. When it was done in May, she would call and tell me how it went. Even during school budget cuts, she was still getting paid to do this because the parents and the faculty loved them so much. While the money helped, she wanted to do it for the kids, and because it made her happy as well. There were times of frustration, but in the end, it was worth it.
She was one of those jolly grandmother types: laughing at everything, wearing sweatshirts with cutesy things sown on them, very friendly and amiable. But it wasn’t until after my grandfather passed that I learned her greatest lesson.
I wrote in high school. I was trying to write a novel, some short stories and some really sappy poetry after a break-up with an old girlfriend. Not knowing what I was going to do with my life, I wrote because with that oppertunity I was able to express my emotions. I showed my grandmother some of my work that was published in a high school writing magazine and, either being grandmotherly or being honest, she liked what I wrote. She told me that she even continued to write once in a while as well and I should keep it up.
As I grew up, she’d ask how my writing was going. I’d say fine, but my writing had tapered off a bit as I continued to struggle with as carer path. I love writing, but I knew how hard it was to break into that market and knew it was no way to make a living off of it. So continued my constant battle of doing something I wanted to do vs something that would put food on the table. It wasn’t until later that I came to the realization she was trying to teach me:
Have a passion. If you love it, you will find a way do it.
There are many things in my life I would either love to do or love how to do. Your passion, or plural, will be your constant. It will be the thing you strive to do even when you’re busy, when times are tough, but also there when everything seems to be going your way. As I’ve gotten older, some of those wants and desires have faded away and I knew that I really didn’t want to do them. My shelf is full of books that teach me how to do Flash and woodworking, but I’ve never picked them up. I haven’t had the desire to pursue those lines of interest even though I would love to. Those aren’t my passions.
That’s the great thing about a passion, they can be anything. While it doesn’t have to be your career or a way to make money off of it, it’s there to help you out. For my grandmother, it was music. She taught music to elementary school kids, she sung in the church choir, it was her one constant. No matter what happened in her life, she would turn to those invisible notes that filled a room.
For me, it’s writing. I’ve got a whole crate of my writings and ides that I’ve gotta go through and organize, especially the ones from my high school years. I’ve written plenty of works ranging from the passionate truthful ones to the silly off-beat types to immense prose that just meanders. No matter what was going on in my life, I could turn to pen and paper (later to keyboard) and just create worlds where everything made sense when nothing else did. Of course, you have have more then one passion you can work on keeping them together so they’re almost interchangeable. Such as me with Magic and writing, I’ve tied them together to something I can really enjoy, which is what you’re reading here.
The key to passions is to make it something you care about. Deeply. A passion isn’t a passing fancy; it’s something that consumes you, helps make you whole. I love movies, and I even make some from time to time. But if I didn’t watch another movie again, I could survive. If I couldn’t write, I don’t know what I would do. A passion isn’t a hobby, it identifies you.
This passion, this desire, can be anything. The only requirement I have is that you should be able to come up to me and not stop talking about your one passion. It doesn’t matter if it’s birdwatching, World War II, or playing a game where you get together with your friends every Friday night. Get involved; a passion leads you to new and exciting places where you wouldn’t have gone in the first place if you didn’t have that interest. It connects you to other people where you form a bond and a relationship all because you both care about the same thing. In turn, you could affect other people’s lives, change their course in history just like they will do to yours. Your life will be richer and fuller because of that, I guarantee it.
It’s not so much carpe diem, it’s enjoying life. With time being the most precious resource any of us have, wasting it seems silly. But that’s why you have to enjoy something, because life is wasted if you didn’t take this gift and enjoy it. As a wise man once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
So it goes.
It’s a phrase that seems so cold, yet so appropriate. Everyone who lives will die, and the world continues on. You’ll miss those that pass, but you can’t shield everyone out so you don’t feel pain. That sensation, of loss, of pain, of suffering, is all part of being human. That’s why we have our passion, to help us through our life. You’ll have memories and experiences together, because at the end, that’s all we really have.
Find what makes you happy. Find what makes you tick.
Find your passion.
Life will not wait for you. Death will not wait either.
So it goes.