What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. – James 4:14
I recently finished a book recommended by a friend (thanks, Rahel!) called Just Mercy. Part memoir part exposé, Just Mercy recounts Bryan Stevenson’s multi-decade career as a lawyer for people on death row and children sentenced to life in prison. I would highly recommend the book. You will be riveted by the harrowing stories of the clients he represents as you learn about institutionalized racism and class-ism in our justice system and the true costs of the death penalty, mandatory minimum sentencing, and prosecuting children as adults.
I also came away from the book absolutely inspired by Bryan Stevenson’s life’s work. His passion, self-sacrifice, and persistence are so admirable that my own contributions seem paltry in comparison. While reading, I started admonishing myself for not choosing to go to law school. I could be out there right now administering justice alongside Bryan Stevenson! I feel similarly when I read the Time 100 or watch a movie inspired by someone who overcame huge obstacles to achieve. It makes me wish I had many lives to live. I could spend one life as an educator, one life as a civil rights attorney, another as a public servant, another as a pastor, another as a chocolatière, writer, DJ, I could go on and on. There is so much I want to do. But I don’t have that many lives. I just have this one, and I need to make it count!
The sentiment of only having one life to live is echoed by poets across the centuries. “Carpe diem” they cry! “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying.” “Let me know how fleeting I am,” the psalmist King David writes (Psalm 39:4). “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver. Robert Frost adds weighty meaning to a walk in the woods: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both /…I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” And, of course, “YOLO!”
I could let these voices and stories like Bryan Stevenson’s mock me into a state of anxiety and regret about all that I haven’t accomplished. Or I could let them inspire me.
I think it’s important to stop and remember that I've had the opportunity to bring value to others in my roles as a teacher and public servant. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that I do, in fact, have limited time on earth to make my mark. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t really want to be a lawyer (no offense to Bryan Stevenson). What I do want to be is the best public servant I’m capable of being. I want to be the best sister, daughter, friend, and all the other roles I play, that I can be. So instead of trying to follow in the exact footsteps of awesome people, I’m going to be inspired by their passion to dig deeper into my own pursuits. I may need you to remind me of this the next time I’m having a moment.
What about you? Do you ever feel anxious that you’re not doing enough with the limited time you have? How do you balance acknowledging the significant contributions you’ve made while also challenging yourself to do more? Thanks for reading, and I would love it if you shared your thoughts below!