A (sometimes) defense of “YOLO”.
You Only Live Once. This is a phrase we have all heard and ironically tacked on our junk food pictures on social media. A phrase that people, often but not always of a more mature, steadfast, hardworking sort, cringe at. It is a phrase that some use, or think is used most often as a justification for thoughtless, reckless behavior. Harmful choices that don’t look to the future or consider consequences. I get it. I agree. When a person with no thought for other people or their own long term best interest does something risky or shortsighted with “YOLO” as their only explanation, it doesn’t work for me.
HOWEVER. However, there is another side to this coin. You only live once is the modern iteration of a much older and still bandied about Latin phrase Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) . Which originated in ancient poetry. I saw it first though, in a scene from one of my favorite movies ever:
Mr. Keating definitely uses a relatively recent meaning of the phrase. Now Horace’s ancient Carpe Diem or : “ taking action for the future today” as the article interprets it, sounds a bit more like something careful adults can get behind. All that said, the modern take on these phrases of not worrying so much and grabbing things that give you joy while you can, and diving into the moment and all that also have a good side. One that I have been living my life by, to a greater or lesser extent. I won’t give you the saga of my entire growing up. A recent example of what I mean will suffice.
So, due to the wonderful chaos and beautiful randomness that is genetics, I have a dicey heart. One that we knew from early on was a trickster and would probably one day betray me. Up until this point in my journey it was there, it was known, and monitored, but no more than a background noise. A minor nuisance.
Early this spring, I went for a routine cardiologist check up, since I hadn’t been in a couple years. After the same set of tests, pokes, prods and all I get a different response than before. Usually it’s “Ok, problems are there, but they haven’t changed enough to be worried about. Check back with us in the next year or so”. This time it was “ Problems have worsened enough that I am going to refer you to a heart surgeon. You’ll probably need surgery.”
Around this same time, I became obsessed with the cast recording of Hamilton (the cultural phenomenon and Broadway Musical) .
Now like any good #HamilTrash worth their salt, I followed everyone involved on social media. Learned all I could. Became enamored with Lin Manuel Miranda’s Twitter account, wrote a fan letter, etc. All with my sword of Damocles, my Poe’s Pendulum, this possible major heart surgery looming over my head.
As spring became summer, news came out that the final performance of the original cast of Hamilton would be on July 9th. I didn’t even really know why this was so important to me when I started looking at airlines and hotels in the Broadway area of NYC the week before. I mean, I have seen and loved musicals before. My family took me to Les Mis when I was quite young. This seemed different. This seemed like a Carpe Diem, a YOLO. A Bucket list item (even though I didn’t fully realize that until later). So to the chagrin of my bank account and the joy of my credit card company, I booked it. I booked a flight and hotel to spend a Saturday in NYC to line up for cancellation or lottery tickets to see the final performance of the OG cast of Hamilton. Against all odds, and after two lottery losses, I got a chance to buy a cancellation ticket. It was phenomenal.
I met new friends in line. I saw the smiling-est hotel clerk in the history of smiles. I got to shake hands with celebrities, and sit near a politician of note. I sat next to a young girl whose eyes were as bright as mine, and sing and cheer. There were people who had been waiting there since morning. A reporter asked me questions. There was someone outside across the street painting a mural of the main character. There was electricity and joy and pizza from the place just up the way. There were high school girls there who had driven from Ohio. We got to be in the room where it happened.
Fast forward. I have more tests. I finally have the meeting with the cardiac surgeon. It is a for sure. I will need open heart surgery. This Loki of a blood pump will betray me no longer.
Now Broadway Musicals may not be your thing. Flying out to New York City to line up for a CHANCE to see a show of any type may not be your thing. I guarantee you though, there is something out there that IS. Something that if you got bad, or even just life altering news, you would think about. Everyone has a YOLO they either have done, cherish the thought of doing, or haven’t really discovered yet. This is not to be buried. Do not shut down the YOLO entirely. Discover it. Work with it like a potter works with clay.
I encourage you, don’t be thoughtless to the people in your life. Don’t leap without looking, and don’t do something just to be extreme. Be intentional in your seizing of the day, of your ONE LIFE as this particular arrangement of particles. There is a delicate, beautiful balance to be found in seizing the day and chasing your happy while remaining committed and responsible and steady as an adult. I don’t know if I struck that balance right here. I don’t know if there is a better way to do this thing called life where you have joy as well as steadfastness. All I know is, that I have a glorious memory to keep me company while I await my turn to don a hospital gown in a couple of weeks.
This is not the entire story even. I also moved to a new place and got engaged. It all contributed to the roller coaster that is my 2016. However, I am having a hard time regretting the YESES and HECK YESES I have said thus far.