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What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live in a broken world?
These are questions all of us have pondered (or will ponder) sometime in our life. And they are significant questions to ponder now, in the midst of the chaos in our world. These contemplations surfaced in my mind as I watched the film “Dead Poets Society.” I reflected over it a bit before sitting down to write, and I want to disclose now that I have not come up with “answers” to these questions. They are far too complex for a single blog post to suffice… Yet, I have thoughts. Ideas. Many of which originated from the said film.
For those who are unfamiliar with the film, “Dead Poets Society” follows the lives of young men (high school age) at a rigorous all-boys preparatory school where free thinking is suppressed and ideas are taught by the book. However, things change when Mr. Keating, a new English teacher, arrives. He challenges his students to look at life through the lens of art, pursue their passions, and seize the day! (If you get the chance, I strongly recommend you watch this spectacular film. It’s one of my favorites!)
Among the array of intricately-woven themes, the one I found most prevalent is the distinction of what it means to live. The film conveyed this message by quoting several famous poets, and I’ve selected my favorites to share. I always get chills reading this section.
“To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse… What will your verse be?”
These powerful lines establish our identity as human beings. We have a purpose. No matter how insignificant, alone, and small you may feel in this grand world… you are here. You are living. You were designed to contribute a verse to “the powerful play that goes on.” Our verses are our voices. Use your voice to add value, not noise.
Recorded in the first pages of the boys’ poetry book, Henry David Thoreau’s moving words illustrate what it means to live with intention.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… [and] to put to rout all that was not life…”
Life is a gift. Being here, being human holds more meaning than we could ever understand. Learning, living deliberately, understanding what life is and what it isn’t is all part of the journey. Of course, Life may not always seem “dear”… we’ve all had storms, and there are more on the horizon. But, in light of politics, in light of the brokenness, in light of the heart-shattering pain of life… to pause and truly marvel at how precious and good it is to be alive… is one of the most profound things we humans can experience.
As Oscar Wilde declared, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Truly living is rare in our distraction-oriented society, and I want to end by making a significant distinction between existing and living. These thoughts came out in an “argumentative poem.” (;
To exist is to be present but not be present.
To live is to engage in thoughtful discussions face-to-face with other human beings.
To exist is to experience life passively.
To live is to read novels, fall in love, trust, weep, pray, and actively cherish life with all its complexities.
To exist is to lose oneself in a sea of voices and opinions, following whatever wave comes your way.
To live is to find your voice and cling to it like a lifesaver… and let others do the same.
To exist is to favour life’s distractions over life’s realities.
To live is to cultivate a garden of knowledge through experience, through touch, and through thought.
To exist is to allow life to sweep you away, allow it to stifle your voice, and allow it to drown your dreams in the depths of “what you should do.”
To live is to make wise and deliberate choices, “sucking all the marrow out of life” and “putting to rout all that is not life” (Thoreau).
To exist is to walk the beach like a ghost… leaving no footprints.
To live is to impress a significant footprint on the grand shore of life.
To exist is not to live.
To live is to fully experience what it’s like to be in a broken and beautiful world.
There is death and darkness… there is loss and deep brokenness… but there is also life and light… hope and beauty… These are things that transpire when we decide to live. Whatever life may bring, know this: you can always make the choice to live.
What has made you feel alive this month? Have you seen Dead Poets Society? What has brought you hope in the midst of the chaos? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts. (: