an awakening, a suspension

What does it mean to be alive?

I’ve been thinking on that a lot lately. But I guess that question comes with all sorts of religious and philosophical baggage, and I have no desire to enter the realm of the controversial in this post. So maybe I’ve been pondering (more accurately) this question:

How does it feelto be alive?

Think about it for a second…

A few months ago, I made the decision that I was going to be extremely intentional of the art in which I partake.

I’ve been a culture junkie as long as I can remember. Film, music, television, visual art, poetry; I’m not especially partial to any one of these (although I do tend to spend most of my time with the former three), and I’ve always been of the opinion that all art has some sort of value. But there are obviously some pieces, films, songs, etc., that have more to say and offer than others.

Now, I enjoy the occasional guilty pleasure movie or song. In fact, some have even been privileged to see me enjoying a One Direction song or two. And even Adam Sandler movies are enjoyable in the right context. However, there was recently a time in my life when I got exhausted with sifting through every little bit and piece. At some point, I had burned myself out; instead of realizing how I enjoyed art, I took everything in. It was sort of prideful in a way. I went for quantity over quality, hoping that my acceptance of everything would lead to some sort of recognition or admiration from others. In the end, it left me tired and frustrated.

So I became “intentional.” I read synopses before I watched a show or film. I sampled music before buying. I thought and digested before I formed ideas. And I was so sure that this would cure my exhaustion.

But you know what? I only became more worn out. It got to the point where I was angry.

You see, art and the enjoyment thereof isn’t my point behind this post. I love art, and love talking to people about it. The digestion and criticism of art is such a huge part of my life and beliefs system. But that wasn’t the source of my exhaustion. And I didn’t even realize that until a few days ago.

I’ve always fancied myself as having good taste.

That really goes for anything and everything. I just love beautiful things. Colors fascinate me. Seriously, ask me how I feel about colors, and I’ll give you a stupidly long and incoherent answer. It’s kind of funny. Try it some time.

My pursuit of good art directly correlates to my love of beauty. And there’s not a whole lot I can say about loving beautiful things. Who doesn’t?

But from where does our love of beauty stem?

I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain lately. Really gut-wrenching, emotional pain. I’m laying that out there, but I don’t really know how else to write. Expression without honesty isn’t really expression.

Pain is funny because it doesn’t work like other emotions. At least, I haven’t experienced like I have sorrow or happiness. Emotions tend to blend together in my experience, some more smooth than others. A period of happiness can slowly dwindle to melancholy, or it can abruptly jump to anger. Or vice versa.

But pain is more all-encompassing. That goes for physical and emotional. When you hurt, pain seems to become the focus of your being for at least some amount of time (again, this is my experience.) There is no transition from happiness to pain to sorrow to pain. There may be brief respites, but pain is pretty much along for the ride until you decide to kick it to the curb. But I digress.

In my pain, I tend to try to numb myself. I realize that everyone does this to a point. It’s part of the grieving process (denial and all that.) I even recognize that I do this. But sometimes I think I don’t realize how intensely I try to numb myself. There’s a difference between feeling numb and the numbing process. Everyone feels numb (emotionally) every once in a while. It’s a reaction.

However, the process of becoming numb is worse. It’s lonely and it’s terrifying. But more importantly: it’s really, really easy.

It’s easy to tell yourself you’re processing something when you’re really just burying it underneath something else. For me, that’s where the love of beauty enters the equation.

I was driving to a friend’s house the other night. It was dusk. The sky was absolutely stunning. I even took a picture on my iPhone like the filthy little Instagram hipster that I am. I was listening to some great music, and I was generally pretty jazzed about being alive.

That’s when a wave of pain washed over me. Like a motherfrickin’ tidal wave. And. It. SUCKED.

I’ve been doing a lot better lately. I haven’t been thinking about my sad, sorry situation, and that’s lent me some opportunity to pour my energies into other things. I try to use life-changing moments as times for growth. And I was (incorrectly) certain that I was headed in the right direction.

Yet, that didn’t stop the pain. Nothing did. And nothing really could. No amount of book reading and positive thinking stops pain. It happens. There’s no pretending it won’t happen again.

But that’s when my epiphany occurred.

I looked into the sky. I saw the color. I felt the summer air rushing through my window. And I felt the pain rolling through me over and over again.

And I was alive.

I was feeling something. I was feeling more than one something. And I was feeling it all very strongly.

And, friends, let me tell you something.

It was beautiful.

I like to think sometimes that the pursuit of beauty will make me more alive. That I’ll be more engaged in the world around me. That I’m doing justice to the overarching mystical importance that is life.

But in that one moment in my car on a cool summer evening, I felt more alive than I can ever remember.

I’m tired of pretending that my pain is something to be avoided and buried. There’s no getting around it: it hurts. And it hurts badly.

But at least when I feel pain, I can know I’m alive. When it washes over me and pulls me under, I can breathe it in and know that I’m gifted with the ability to feel at all.

And that, above all other feelings, is beautiful.

How does it feel to be alive?

I don’t know that I’ll ever figure it out. But if it’s anything like the feeling of beauty and pain and emotion all wrapped into one soul and one moment in time, then I want to make sure I’m always living and always feeling.


– Josh



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