Over the millenia, many cultures have used a lunar calendar. On that schedule, the new year overlaps or occurs near the spring equinox. (Chinese New Year is the most well known, though much of east Asia uses a lunar calendar and celebrates the new year near spring.) Likewise, the western zodiac cycle begins at the vernal equinox (Aries).
As the most pronounced seasonal change, spring is a logical starting point for the new year. Even considering all the celebrations around Janaury 1, spring feels more the way I expect a new year to feel, with nature’s bright, obvious signs of rebirth. (Particularly this year, as I am polar vortexed out.)
As all of nature is rebirthing, I, too, reset my intentions and momentum towards a new cycle.
One of my all-consuming cares is living a meaningful life. I have a limited amount of time; I want to make the most of my life. Growing up, the framework for those intentions came from Judeo-Christian traditions—that each person has exactly one lifetime. By that perspective, this life is my only opportunity.
Yet even as a child, I could not reconcile the dissonance between the notion of a single life and the countless physical transformations of our bodies. Everything decays, and no matter how many times things change form, nothing, including our bodies, ever vanishes from existence. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Matter simply recycles and reforms.
As an adult, I became steeped in traditions with foundational belief in reincarnation. Certainly, reincarnation more closely matches my childhood observation.
Either way, I do not have attachment to which is “right” or “true.” Both perspectives are true in their own way. And though I never intended to reconcile them for myself, the way I strive to live ultimately honors both.
In other words, I live in such a way that it doesn’t matter. Whether or not I have had or will have multitudes of other incarnations, human or otherwise, I have exactly one opportunity in this particular life. Whether my spirit/soul somehow returns as another sentient being, Stephanie Francesca is alive just this once. So the other possible lives are inconsequential to my intentions.
Stephanie Francesca has only this life, with its unique qualities, personality, and characteristics. This body. These circumstances. These abilities. This mind. This heart. No one else got them, just as I didn’t get the life of someone else. So I want to be mySelf in both the deepest and highest possible ways, since this opportunity will never arise again.
Though I didn’t recognize it until I was a much happier adult, I lived in chronic, pervasive depression for many years. By the time I was in high school, I really didn’t want to live. I didn’t enjoy life. I was constantly bullied. Life was rarely interesting, with the exceptions of music and books—the only things that made me appreciate being alive.
Despite this grim picture, I was never suicidal, in the sense of making any plans. But not because I thought I had happiness in my future. Primarily because, even then, fortunately, I was precocious enough to recognize that this life is my only opportunity as this person.
I was also pragmatic enough to recognize that I had very particular gifts. I knew I was smart, and years of volunteering in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and inner city summer camps had demonstrated that I was a quick study and a hard worker.
So I played nicely with the expectations which surrounded me, because behaving myself made things more bearable. But I had absolutely no faith that I would ever be content, let alone happy. I saw my future as a long, grey road, with all the expected milestones and accomplishments waiting to be done.
Many people cared, certainly. But my spirit had no advocate. Nor did I ever share anything, so no one convinced me that other possibilities existed.
What prevented me from suicide was the idea that I should make the most of this lifetime, even if my best-case scenario was mediocre. Even if my opportunity was that grey road, I still didn’t want to squander it. I trusted that I would find ways to make myself useful and be productive with my gifts.
Fortunately, now I understand my life completely differently. Now, I want to believe that no one could do better, if given my opportunity. I want to believe that I do the most possible good, create the best possible work, than anyone else could have done with my same abilities and circumstances.
Hubris, perhaps. I know better than to attempt the impossible task of meeting all benchmarks of success. Already, I’m far behind at our society’s most obvious measure of success—I don’t earn the maximum possible salary I have the ability to make.
But money really is just numbers. I have already passed that part of my path, when I worked solely for figures in an account.
Now, I live much more harmoniously with my beliefs. In this effort, I am near-obsessed with how I will live this singular opportunity. I am capable of many things which are not on my path. By now I could have made a lot more money, started a family. But my concern is doing better than anyone else could have done with my life, by my definition. That I leave nothing undone because of fear, insecurity, or laziness. That I do everything with integrity, love, and goodwill. And so I work and create in alignment with my soul, and all these intentions find meaning.
In this springtime, I receive renewed momentum from all the life around me. And I wish the same for you. It matters not how much time you think you have or how many lifetimes may or may not await.
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver
Go forth and set the world on fire.
~ St. Ignatius
The first time I ever shared these thoughts with another human being was earlier this month, with the drummer in my band. He commented he’d never thought about life that way before. Then he smiled and said, “That’s immortality.”
∞ Deeply grateful to Steve Eberhardt and Ember de Quincy for sharing their amazing photos.
SK © 2014