The Value Of Living This Life
Navigating the balance of life in the middle of a pandemic and unprecedented uncertainty.
By David Todd McCarty | Sunday, July 12, 2020
I came across this news story that was making its way around Twitter yesterday. It was about a Texas man who had attended a so-called “covid party” where people get together in an effort to prove that COVID-19 doesn’t exist. He started feeling sick a few weeks later, was admitted to the hospital, and in what was reported as his last words before died, told the nurse, “’I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.” He had been living his life, just as he was told to do. He lived without fear, up until the end anyway, and then he died. He was 30 years old.
In another recent story, Tommy Macias, a 51-year-old California man attended a BBQ after having reportedly staying home and quarantining for most of the pandemic. He started feeling symptoms a few weeks later, was tested on June 15 and received a positive result on June 18.
“Because of my stupidity I put my mom and sisters and my family’s health in jeopardy,” he wrote on June 20. “This has been a very painful experience.”
He urged others to wear a mask and practice social distancing if they have to go out. Macias thanked those who brought him food and supported him.
“Hopefully with God’s help,” he added, “I’ll be able to survive this.”
He died the next day.
Last night, I was watching a movie on Netflix about a group of immortals that had supposedly been spending centuries fighting for the good of humanity. It’s called The Old Guard and stars Charlize Theron as an ancient female warrior leading a team of immortal mercenaries who operate as a sort of sword-wielding team of characters in the Equalizer mold. It no doubt worked better as the comic book it was inspired by.
The movie was little more than a stereotypical action film with all the same beats and all the same characters, complete with an evil genius villain, a tortured, yet beautiful hero and a hint of a sequel. But it did have some interesting ideas at the core of the story, primarily, what is the meaning of life?
This is where the movie fell apart for me, but the question stuck with me till morning.
In light of a deadly pandemic that has infected millions and the horrific political nightmare that is America in this moment, with a megalomaniac tyrant leading a hoard of willfully ignorant cult members, I’m left to wonder what is the value of this life we’re so desperately trying to lead.
There is the everyday life stuff, most of which is good. Good food. Family meals. Sunny days. Trying our best to make the most of a bad situation. Trying to find the balance between art and commerce, caution and practicality.
My granddaughter turns seven today. Her mother is just days past due with her fourth child, our seventh grandchild. We’re all headed over to their house for a birthday party. It’s just family, meaning as many as twenty adults, more than a dozen kids, including four grandparents, representing at least eight separate households. We will mostly be outside, but everyone will be in and out of the house, especially to eat, and I’m guessing not a single person will be wearing a mask or doing anything close to social distancing.
I seem to be the only one who thinks this is a problem. I’m not blaming anyone or suggesting they’re being knowingly irresponsible. We’ve been living under quarantine for over four months and for most people, no one they know has been sick or died. How long are you reasonably supposed to remain vigilant and on a high state of alert?
Eventually someone will say the words. It’s inevitable. Everyone seems to get there eventually. Six words that have defined our re-entry into society after having spent a few short months in isolation. They say, “We have to live our life.”
It’s said like a mantra one is told to say to ward off evil spirits.
This brings me to my central question of the morning, which is, what is the value of this life that we’re in such a hurry to resume? Not existentially so. Not in an epic, what is the meaning of life, sort of way. But more in the way one might answer the question of whether it is worth dying for that piece of seared ahi tuna with side of yellow rice served by a surly waiter in a mask. Or risking my life for the thrill of sitting in a dark theater watching the new Judd Apatow movie about an emotionally-fragile fuckup from Staten Island, starring Pete Davidson, an emotionally-fragile fuckup from Staten Island. Or a birthday party with hamburgers and hotdogs and cake—a party we’ve been to a hundred times with people we see all the time.
To avoid the birthday party seems callous, selfish and over-reactive. That’s how I would be made to feel anyway, if I opted out. The pressure to conform is intense, and in the mind of a seven year old, it’s a really big deal, so we will go.
But if anyone dies because we couldn’t delay gratification for cake and ice cream, the small joys of a child’s party, wrapping paper and a balloon, I will have to rethink the value of this life we claim to be so eager to resume living. It won’t have been worth the 52 years I’ve spent toiling on this planet so far; all the lessons I learned, all the pain I’ve suffered through, all the successes and the joys.
I don’t believe in Heaven anymore. That’s a hard thing to write. I’m not an absolutist about it. I’m not an atheist. I’m still holding out hope that there is something bigger out there. Hopefully something after, but it seems increasingly unlikely. It feels like the sort of wishful thinking you would expect from a child or a primitive mind. Everything we know in the universe has a beginning and an end. Life happens and then it ends. There is no second act. Why would we imagine we are so special? Because it keeps the fear of death at bay in the only species that knows it will one day die.
The ultimate in delayed gratification. This life is meaningless, because the next one is going to be even better.
But to quote another movie, “What if this is as good as it gets?”
What if this is it? The whole game, set and match. The entire enchilada? What if there is nothing else?
I want it to mean something. I want it to mean more than it meant at the end to that 30-year old man in Texas who believed what he was told and died frightened and alone. He was just living his life, until he wasn’t.
I want it to mean something.
I fear it will not.
Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard