I came across this quote years ago, and it has stuck with me, perhaps in large part because it seems to echo the sentiment becoming so popular lately - the idea that we must constantly consider what we're doing and if, in fact, it's worth it.
When I worked in the writing center of a community college, I spoke with many students much younger than I, and the sense I got from many of them was that they didn't want to do what their parents had done, which was simply get jobs, pay bills, have kids and go to the movies and dinner at the Outback on Saturday.
People seem to be questioning a standard idea (probably after the world wars?) that life should be a linear path, a series of steps, that led from finding a job to buying a home to having children to retiring from that job to enjoying free time and finally moving into a retirement home to live out one's last years in a sterile, efficient, clinical setting.
Oh dear. Are my fears coming out here?
I think people are beginning to ask, particularly of their professional lives: is the time and energy I'm spending here worth the trade I'm making? Is it worth the amount of life I'm exchanging for it?
I've seen it go both ways.
I've seen people who work hard, long hours and travel every weekend and climb the proverbial ladder only to find themselves alone at the top, disillusioned, worn out and run down. The amount of life they traded for the work wasn't worth it, and for many, it's too late to reverse course.
And for others, the amount of life traded has been fine. I see soldiers work longer hours than any other profession I know. They are gone for months, sometimes years. They work around the clock, often in pretty severe conditions. Yet, if you ask some of them if it's worth it, the answer is a resounding yes.
I see it also with some stay-at-home moms. There is an amount of life exchanged for those years staying home, spooning pureed peas into tiny mouths. If you ask some of those mothers, they wouldn't have chosen to be anywhere else.
And other mothers would disagree. Other mothers may think, though possibly not say, that the amount of life exchanged was too great.
I've met soldiers, retired from the military and looking back from a distance, who say the amount of life wasn't worth it. They missed their kids' birthdays and childhoods. Their marriages fell apart or lay dormant in ways that cannot be repaired.
I suppose the point I'm making is that the question isn't rhetorical. It may seem so, as if the point is that we're all off course and missing our lives. However, I don't think that's it at all.
But I do think it's important to check in now and then, to really sit down and ask: is this worth the amount of life I'm exchanging for it?
I think about it now when I even agree to have coffee with someone or consider a job or take on a writing assignment. It's a gut-check sometimes to realize the answer is now.
And it's hugely comforting in those moments to realize the answer is yes.
I hope everyone had a wonderful week. Father's Day is tomorrow, which is being trumped by the 13th Birthday Jubilee of our daughter. She's already opened her gifts and is probably slathering herself in face cream right now. Am I pleased my 13-year-old loves face cream? I am.