Answer by Thaddeus Howze:
You can't know Life's value when you're young.
It's not your fault. Being young, the most valuable thing you gain by getting older, can only be gained, by getting older and trading your youth in for experience. "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted," goes the gentle wisdom reminding you getting older is it's own reward.
When you're young, you are too intoxicated with the stuff of life. No matter where you live, no matter the hardship of your life, you are filled with the efforts of making life what you want it to be. Making it whatever you think it's supposed to be for you.
If you're a fisherman, you fish. If there aren't fish, you struggle to find work that will support you until the fish come back. If they come back. The race to keep food on your table, a beautiful woman to share your life and eventually children to carry on your name will consume your youth.
You are focused on the chase, partying the nights away, struggling if the world isn't kind, luxuriating, if your family is blessed with wealth and has better connections.
The chemical soup that is life courses through your veins, filling you with a sense of invulnerability, with the enthusiasm that life is never-ending, there are no consequences worth worrying about and that ultimately, no matter what decisions you make they will work out somehow.
Or they won't. And that is Life, too.
You will march, inexorably toward old age. If you're lucky.
That irrepressible vigor of youth, if not rigorously maintained, even if blessed with the good genes of beautiful ancestors, will note the twinge on the tennis court, the creak in your back in the morning after dancing the night away, the struggle to read your favorite book about conspiracies in the Vatican, the discord when you hear the music coming from your daughter's room, wondering what the hell she's listening to.
Then and only then do you note the seconds. Your awareness of time becomes more acute. You suddenly realize you don't have enough time in a day. The same 86,400 seconds you had every day when you were younger, now seem to run in short supply as you age.
It's a perceptual thing. The more time that has passed, the greater awareness you have of the time in front of you. You begin to feel those seconds. You're aware of their dwindling supply.
Suddenly you stop tracking the days, reluctant to remember exactly what year it is. Or maybe it isn't reluctance. It's awareness.
That you have more time behind you than you do in front of you.
Have you done everything you wanted? That bucket list you laughed at when you were twenty-five, is mostly still empty at forty-five.
Except now you realize you have a job to maintain, cable bills, gas bills, water bills, tuition, mortgage, bracers for the kids who seem to have too many teeth and too many cavities, clothes for the new job which doesn't pay nearly enough, longer commutes, more stress at work because you have more responsibilities you didn't ask for and reluctant employees who complain no matter what decisions you make with them, for them, about them, and a boss who never tells you he makes twice as much money as you do and does a fraction of your workload. And yet you know this.
Now your life is so full you don't have the time to fill that bucket because it's already full. Of things you have to do, things you are obligated to finish, to manage, to lead, to coordinate, to tolerate, to deal with, to put up with. Things which use up your precious time.
Suddenly your time has a real value to you. Now the race begins in earnest.
Only now are you wise enough in your middle years, if you're lucky, to begin to take advantage of your dwindling energies and your vanishing time, to begin prioritizing what is best in life.
No, not just the crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women, unless you happen to be a fifth century barbarian, then have at.
You begin to throw away the things you no longer need, you help your children find their best way with the talents they possess. Handling your own sense of mortality as you lay your parents to rest. Managing their assets, reminds you again of your impending passage. If you're like most people you double down on living, trying to do more, get more out of life.
You look at your own children and don't want them to make the same mistakes you have. You hope to bring unto them wisdom, hard won, hard earned and bestow it upon them, to bypass the side-effects of wisdom; the time lost recovering from unnecessary errors in judgement.
If you're lucky, they listen. If you're like most parents, they won't. Not until they turn thirty or so, and if you're still around they come back to you and pretend they were listening and just need to you to remind them of what you told them when they weren't.
And you will do it. Because you now know the secret, the thing we are all reluctant to admit, fear facing and know we always learn too late.
Life is short.
Let me rephrase that. Stars can live for billions of years, sizzling in the dark, sharing their light with the universe. But all stars aren't created equal. Some burn with the light of a thousand suns, lighting the darkness across all of time and space, their brightness unequaled in the heavens. But those same super-large stars have lives which are far shorter than those sleepy stars no one can see.
Each of us is like a star. Some burn brightly, visible from everywhere. The price tag for them is that their potential may be limited in different ways. They may have money but no time of their own. They may have opportunity, but never quite the one they were looking for. They may live life fully, but remain completely uneducated about the world.
There is a cost and value to every life, no matter how affluent, no matter how indigent. Each person pays what they are able, bears what they can, shares what they learn. Many never manage to learn this lesson.
No matter what we do with our lives, it will only be a sliver of the potential available to us as a species.
Each of us is living a brief musical note on the ledger lines of life. A single note, a single sound, a single frequency which we and only we can make.
The quality of that note is ours. We decide how we play it, what we do with it, and where it falls based on our efforts. We can't always affect the music of the spheres, the path of the cosmos, the ultimate fate of all that is.
But we can play in harmony with others. We can see how our notes can shape the song of the lives of people near us and by proxy, people six degrees or more away from us.
We have the power, the individual capacity to make music with the entire world. To draw upon the skein, the ledger, the web of life, playing our note with love, with the belief in something better, with the idea we and nature are one.
The greatest and saddest truth about life: We believe we are alone in the Universe and that we don't live long enough to make a difference in anyone's lives but our own.
It's only truth if you let it be. You can opt to expand your music until it is a music heard by everyone.
And that too is a choice.