Reader Request Week 2007 #1: Justifying My Life
Posted on March 26, 2007 Posted by John Scalzi 20 Comments
To inaugurate this year’s Reader Request Week, in which I write on your requests, because I love you in a mannish, totally het sort of way, here’s a deep question, from Ray:
The world ends in 72 hours. How do you justify your life?
Well, Ray, I guess my question is, justify it to whom? I’m a doubtful agnostic, so I’m not likely to try to justify my life to God, whose line is likely to be jammed up in any event. If it’s the end of the world, everyone else is gonna be dead in 72 hours, too, except the dudes in the international space station, who will clearly have problems of their own. I’m not going to try to justify my life to a cosmonaut; I don’t know how I would reach one, and if I did I’m not sure he’d care. “Da, da, your life is good. Hang up now.” Likewise I’m sure everyone else in the world will be kinda busy, too. And since it’s the world that’s ending, not just humanity, there will be no future race of intelligent rat/roach/squid/whatever to find my words etched into stone or glass or titanium or whatnot.
At the end of days, the only people to whom I would feel the need to justify my life would be to those I feel the need to justify my life to now, and on a daily basis: My wife and daughter, and to a lesser extent myself. Since I try to justify my existence to them daily, and try to live my own life so that if it were to end I could not say I was dissatisfied with it, having the end of the world coming up in three days would not make a tremendous difference in terms of personal justification. I’m justified well enough, thanks, that I wouldn’t feel the need to take any chunk of my short remaining time to deal with it then. This is one area in which I’ve planned ahead.
Instead, with my last days, I would simply say goodbye; presuming the phones and the internet have not collapsed, I would post a last entry here, and I would call and e-mail friends and as briefly as possible I would let them know what they meant to me. Then I would turn off the computer, the phone and the world and spend my last day as I spend all my days — in love with my family, and with them no matter what comes next, even if what comes next is nothing, and happy in the knowledge that the love we have for each other needs no room for regret, or for further justification.
As it should be in all things, in any event. My world — my apprehension of it, anyway — could end in 72 hours, or in 72 months, or (very optimistically) in 72 years. We don’t know when we will die. I can’t say I always manage to live my life so I do not have to justify it, or regret my actions; I am, alas, human. But I try. If I die today, I do not think I would have much to justify. I am, by my own standards, a good person. I believe I have been a good husband and father and friend. And I’ve certainly kept you lot entertained. I’m good.
So, Ray, that’s how I would justify my life: I wouldn’t. I would spend my last days doing other more important things. It’s a better use of my time, what little of it remained. I would hope you would be able to do the same.
(Want to participate in Reader Request Week? Add your own question here)
Why should any of us have to justify our lives? None of us asked to be born we just were. If you worry about justifying your life and modify your behavior and actions accordingly you are living in fear. For me that type of life isn’t worth living. If I do something nice for somebody I want it to be because I wanted to do something nice not because I was afraid I’d burn in hell or wouldn’t get into heaven. Doing the right thing is admirable yet not as admirable as doing the right thing for the right reason.
Then I would turn off the computer, the phone and the world and spend my last day as I spend all my days —
— taping bacon to the cat.
Those supposed astronauts in Mir would already be in trouble, having burned up some years ago.
This ISS, however, is a different story. And yes, they would certainly be up a creek. I don’t even think they would be able to return to Earth in the Soyuz escape capsule, because I think they still need the ground to control it. I could be wrong about that.
Bryan: Fixed mir reference. Thanks.
Bravo Herr Scazli!
And a mighty talent you have with your words. If the question was put to me I think my reply would have been very similar.
No problem! That’s what us editors are here for!
(Now Bryan finds himself banned from Whatever forever…)
There’s a sign above the doorway in our kitchen reading, “Don’t take life too serious–it ain’t nohow permanent”, a quote from Tom Jones. Fifteen years ago my wife had a brain wreck. Her doctors were not optimistic about her survival. She lived and in fact, thrived, really beating the odds. I take her continued survival as a gift.
This event changed me forever. Just when I thought we were on easy street, all in love and everything–the rug was jerked from under us, and all my old soldier wisdom wasn’t worth a damn. I thought I had life and death all figured out after Vietnam, but now I know for sure, what I have to account for is how I live my life every day.
I love my work, but work comes second to my family. I’ve passed on a couple of good writing opportunities because I would have to be in LA too much. Sure it’s a old saw to say we only have today, but I tell my kids I love ’em every time I speak with them and I back up the talk by taking time, not “quality” time but real time to talk and listen to my family. They are what counts and what I work for.
My little screenplays and the music I’ve recorded are both parts of my life and the work is important to do, as it pays for tuition and food, but my life is illuminated by the shine coming from my family. And each day, I get out of bed to see a familiar smile or talk to my daughter in Chicago, I take great comfort knowing that if tomorrow, I stepped in front of a bus, I would have left nothing unsaid and had departed this earth with no regrets.
John, I admire how you hold your family close. Your posting about you wife and daughter are a big part of what makes this blog a special place for us to come. Thank you.
As Neil Gaiman wrote in American Gods, it’s a special feather.
It’s a way to live one’s life. I think I’d apologize to those people I had forgotten that lesson with.
You might not have to justify anything to yourself; but I have a sneaky feeling your cat would feel otherwise. She will hunt you with a vengeance in the afterlife.
What exactly is a doubtful agnostic?
You don’t believe in your disbelief of God?
I’m not chiding here, I’m just curious.
Nick, that “nohow permanent” quote is from the comic strip Pogo, by Walt Kelly, unless I and, cross-checking, Wikiquote are very much mistaken.
“Doubtful agnostic” means that I don’t know whether there is a God or not, nor do I think we’re likely to find out, but if I had to guess, I’d say there’s probably not one.
Nice post John – well said.
My last 72 hours would probably involve baby oil, rubber sheets, whipped cream, and a pogo stick – but this is a family friendly forum, so I’ll spare you the details.
Fascinating question! Like John, I wonder who I am expected to justify my life to?? Given 72 hours, well, I’d plan a helluva party. Work the phone and get 20 or 30 people out to our farm, and have a blast. My husband is one of the best party planners/entertainers I know, and he always puts together good parties. I would want one last blast. That way we could clean out the freezer before the end of the world ;)
I don’t think I would justify my life to anyone. I do the best I can, considering the burdens my parents gifted me with :) With the therapy I’ve done, I’ve not had a depressive episode in 4 years, and it has been the best 4 years EVAH!! Wait, was that justification?? Oh the horror…
I’d also have to call all the friends I know and love, and thank them for the gift of their friendship. Then, I’d finish up my time with my husband, and shake my ass to some Prince. We aren’t expecting this anytime soon right??
Why rubber sheets? It’s not like you’ll need to clean up afterward…
Its interesting how many science fiction writers (and, among my acquaintances, readers as well, including myself) are nonbelievers in the supernatural. I suspect SF (among other things, of course) had some part in my own deconversion from a traditional religious upbringing. I wonder how many others might say the same.
I’m sure you’re right on the quote. The piece on my wall gives attribution to Tom Jones–then again the guy never sang a line he wrote. Thanks–I won’t tell my wife. It might spoil it for her as she really likes Tom Jones. :)
Tsk. Spoken like a politician :P
The obvious answer of “to whom” is “you”. What did you do with your life?
But you probably knew that. Get with the spirit of the thing and answer the question he asked, not the one you read.
Snail, first, I’ll answer the questions any damn way I please, thanks. Second, I discuss justifying my life to myself in the entry itself, so your complaint is curious, at the very least.