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What have you lived for?

Looking back and looking forward as the year turns helps us make sense of what we are about, what we are for, where we are going. And to adjust course if our lives aren’t going quite the way we had wanted. There’s a sense in which we step out of our daily lives as the year turns, consider it from outside-in, before we step back into it again and get caught up once more. To ‘lead’ our own lives we really need to do this more than once a year, don’t you think?

When we eventually look back, because there is far more ‘back’ to look to and far less ‘forward’, I’d like to be able to say something like this, which comes from Bertrand Russell’s introduction to his autobiography. To be able to look back on a life like this, you have to have planned to live it. I think that’s a key lesson for me in how to lead your own life: think ahead to what you want to look back on. Then make it happen.

So, what do you want to look back on 2009 and say? Here’s the inspiring Bertrand Russell that lives on my wall, looking back on his whole life:

What I Have Lived For
“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

“I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have scrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness – that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that the saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what – at last – I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.”

– Bertrand Russell, introduction to his autobiography

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