I've been feeling a little off-kilter lately, dear readers. A close friend just lost her brother, my grandmother had a medical scare, and my very healthy aunt (who's only in her 50s) had a heart attack--all in the same week. These are the kinds of things that give me pause and make me wonder: if I died today, what would the point of my life have been?
(Maybe I'm thinking about all this stuff because I'm down with another cold, and when I'm sick, I feel vulnerable.)
Maybe it sounds trite, but when I think of the lives of the three people I mentioned above, they've all had various effects on me, small and large, even though one of them (my friend's brother) I never met. They've all brought some measure of joy to my life, and I am grateful for that. This made me wonder: do I bring joy to anyone? If so, is that enough for me to feel like I've lived a useful life? I like my work and think it's useful, but it's useful in an attenuated way rather than an immediate one. It's not like I'm not a pathbreaking cancer researcher or an EMT or an organizer for social justice.
My DXH (that's Dear Ex-Husband) and I used to have a conversation wherein he would talk about how he just wanted to keep his own little corner of the world clean--to make an impact on a local level and help those around him. I would tell him that for me, that wasn't enough--that I needed to have a bigger impact or I'd never feel like my life had been useful. Ironically, he's now in a job where he has very clear, large-scale positive impact, and I am not. At the same time, I don't think either of us has regrets about our career choices.
My DP (Dear Partner, to whom I've formerly referred as my DGF, but "girlfriend" feels a little too trite, I've decided, so she's henceforth DP) and I talk about this, too. She wonders whether she's having enough positive impact on the world. This is a woman whose quirky jokes can instantly brighten a room, who has volunteered for disaster relief, and who has informally mentored others in her workplace. I find it mind-boggling that she could even begin to question her own positive impact. Yet I question my own, so I understand.
If I'm quietly content to live out my life helping others where I can, bringing joy to people in conversations and maybe occasionally through my writing, is this a life well lived? If I spend a lot of my time cultivating a kind of inner contentment through gardening, drawing, and other solo pursuits, does that denote zen-like virtue, or is it a cop-out?
I don't think other people have any particular obligation, but I haven't yet decided what kind of standard I'll hold myself to. I just know that I want to be accountable.
Does anyone else ever struggle with this?