Too Late for Later

Thomas Friedman’s great op-ed piece about global warming definitively declares that, when faced with making decisions that have life or death consequences, there is, at some point, no more time for procrastinating, debating and analyzing. At some moment, to continue to procrastinate or put off until tomorrow becomes a fatal decision.

I love this idea that ‘later’ ceases to be an option when the stakes are high enough. When this is the case, we are committed—no matter what we choose. It is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of situation.

We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness; it is always urgent, "here and now" without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point blank.
—José Ortega y Gassett

I think this idea isn’t a bad mantra for growing older. In the case of aging, it is obvious—time is running out. The only question is whether this is a burden, a ‘heavy’ fact of life to which we become resigned, or an opportunity for transformation and unprecedented action.

I love this quotation from the play Man and Superman:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I can live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
—George Bernard Shaw

Play with this idea. What if ‘later’ is not an option? What if we could surgically remove the concept of ‘later’ from our thinking? What would be different in our daily lives? What choices are we making at this moment that would or could change? Would we be living where we are living? Would we be working where we are working? Would we be living with whomever we are living?

It seems to me that one of two things would happen. Either we would be choosing our lives to be what they are or we’d be taking action to change them.

We could still dream. We could still create new worlds. We could still have ambition. But we would move through life with a level of responsibility and awareness of our choices and actions that is often missing if we are living in the illusion that there is still time to do all the things we aren’t doing because we can always do it later. We might have to give up a lot of our ‘story’, our excuses and justifications for the status quo. We might have to give up some of the recurring complaining that goes on in the hallways and the coffee shops. We might even have to give up tolerating unsatisfactory relationships.

Well, this is something to think about, but right now I am working.

So I’ll think about it later.