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The Miracle of Life: A Tale on Negativity, Magic, and Gratefulness

Photo by Patrick Kalkman on Unsplash

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.

— Albert Einstein

We tend to think of daily life as a tragedy. Everything is horrible, everything sucks. So much stress. People nagging you. So much to do, so little time.

I remember I was on a bus listening to this podcast a few weeks before this whole corona thing kicked off, and there was this one line that caught my attention. It was this:

We’re exposed to more negativity today in 24 hours than we were in our whole lifetimes 25 years ago.

That blew my mind when I heard it. 25 years ago, there wasn’t the technology that allowed information to travel so fast, and now each of us has a mini-computer in our pockets that tell us real-time updates on the latest crisis.

COVID-19 updates. The death of George Floyd. Some celebrity dies of cancer. Another school shooting. The latest drama on Trump. You fill in the blanks.

We’re in an age where negativity finds you and not the other way around. It’s a damn heat-seeking missile. My goodness, I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way. Whether it’s through social media platforms, friends or family, people you follow, or a random television in some bar, bad news spreads like wildfire until the whole world knows its name.

As much as the news and negativity can inform us about hot topics, current events, and social reform movements taking place, it can also cloud our vision of seeing the good in the world. It’s hard to see the light when everything that surrounds you is dark.

Here are some questions you might find helpful in accessing your well-being and the impact that negativity may have had on your life:

  1. How much is negativity affecting me mentally and emotionally?
  2. Is the negativity really helping me at all? How often do I find myself getting frustrated over things I can’t control?
  3. Can I really live my best life with fear and anxiety at the top of my mind?

The world tells us we live in a hostile universe. We need to learn to believe that a friendly universe exists — because it does. This is the choice we make every day, intentionally made or not, and it is the choice that shapes how we view and show up in the world.

1) The world is a hostile universe: Your emotional state is dictated by external events to which you have no control over. The decisions you make are reactionary. Everything is horrible, the whole world seems to be against you, and all you can do is hope for a better future.

2) The world is a friendly universe: You realize how valuable your life is. You are grateful for all that you have because you know how privileged you are and that it could all go away in a blink of an eye. You feel free, things don’t bother you, and accept hardships as the motions of life. You are an optimistic, proactive individual, and all you can do is live in the moment and build a better future.

I’m here to convince you that the world is a friendly universe, that gratitude and appreciation for what we have is the universal cure that will bring us eternal happiness and will free us from the shackles that pain and negativity bear down on us.

To begin, let me say this:

You are a miracle.

I’m not going to explain why you are a miracle with numbers and statistics because I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times. Videos like, “What Are The Odds That You Exist?” and variations of it ultimately lead you to the realization that you are in fact, a miracle.

I’d like to take a more Socratic approach. Consider this:

You’re here now, but what if you weren’t? What if you lost everything you ever had, just like that? How would it feel? What thoughts would be running through your mind?

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Vaporized from existence, imagine yourself as a free-spirited ghost roaming the earth. In this semi-1984 world, all records of you become shreds of unimportant documents down memory hole — your family, friends, and loved ones simply forget about you.

You’re alone.

You become an outsider to the world. Life becomes a movie, a spectacle you can watch but never live. You tune in to witness gun shootings, mass murders, domestic violence, civil war, racism, child slavery, rape, suicide, bullying, abuse, tragic vehicle accidents, forest fires, species extinction, global warming, and terrorism — it tears your soul apart. And as you watch from above, you see a lonely girl in freshman year eating a ham sandwich in a bathroom stall on lunch break by herself. Your heart crumbles into a dense black rock, and you erupt into tears like an enraged volcano crying a river of ink-black blood so acidic it eats the soil beneath. You do so so uncontrollably not only because vivid memories of your past come surging back, but also because peering into this girl’s eyes — without her ever knowing — reminds you of your present reality. Scars of an incomplete past, one lacking social and emotional support, resurface, leaving you with a bloodied, scab-filled complexion.

Thoughts swirl in your mind to no end. Eventually you reach a deep, meditative dream-like state.

“Is this what death feels like?”

“Where am I? Who am I?”

“…”

Exiting out of a deep depression after many years, you come to a stark realization. Negativity is a never-ending constant that swallows the world. You don’t have to feed it, nor do you have to be part of it. You realize this whole time, you had the Netflix remote and you were watching all the wrong shows.

In retrospect, you were addicted. Your inner dialogue that once cycled negative self-talk becomes one that nurtures forgiveness and understanding. You realize that the lies you tell yourself in secret eventually manifest into your living truth. The voice of self-doubt in your head is like door-to-door salesmen selling you money, cake, and chocolate bars. You learned to stop answering the door.

With these new insights, you decide to move on. Instead, you focus on the miracles of life.

You watch your best friend celebrate his birthday gorging in your favorite strawberry shortcake topped with candied honey-yellow cubes of mango without you, a couple on a first date at sunset in France smiling, laughing, and mesmerized with each other, and the excitement of all the kids around the world on Christmas day.

Chills run up your spine and your sense of time vanishes as you’re consumed in watching life unfold. The only thought you have is how awesome it would be to experience life firsthand.

“This isn’t magic. This isn’t an illusion. I know this life. Hell, I’ve lived it for 18 years. I don’t want to hate life anymore, I love it.”

Life is like magic — unreal and so real at the same time — and you are the magician, the mastermind behind it all.

Your FOMO — fear of missing out — grows stronger than ever before; Instagram and Facebook pale in comparison. Your mind races with thoughts of wanting to spend a day in Hawaii surfing from dawn till dusk, spending a night out with friends, re-watching a favorite movie, putting on an old favorite song, and reading a good book in a candle-lit nook. Like when you were seven, aching to get on the scariest roller-coaster, you’re begging to go back. And strangely, you’re dying for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“When we realize we could have nothing, what we have is everything.

“I just want to experience life again,” you say. And all of a sudden, as if some higher power was listening to you this whole time, a vortex of wind stirs around your body. The image your eyes form is a distorted reality. Like you’re high on MDMA, NZT-48, Psilocybin, marijuana, heroin, opium, and crystal methamphetamine, all you see are optical illusions, all you hear is muffled screeching in your ears. A wave of electricity takes over your body, your hands start to shake and soon your whole body follows into an uncontrollable spasm moving in and out of consciousness. And then, suddenly, Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity. Literally. Your hands, arms, torso, and legs materialize in front of you, and you find yourself seated in a lab chair in some research facility.

“Welcome back,” a scientist says to you, smiling. He looks aged, and the wrinkles that carve his face gives him the impression of a revered scholar. There’s something about the guy that’s familiar like I know him from somewhere, I just can’t put a finger on it.

“Where am I?” you ask, still dazed and rather confused.

“Oh my, I didn’t anticipate this. There seems to be some slight memory loss,” he says, “Well, it’s 2050, and ten years ago, you signed up as a volunteer for our lab.” He goes on to explain the experiment was unapproved by the government, labeled as “high-risk,” as the technology at the time produced unstable outcomes. It went on secretively despite this by consent.

“Wait, what? Ten years? Holy shit.”

“Yes… And I’m sure you’re wondering why.”

“I don’t remember anything, please tell me.”

“Look, Ellie,” the scientist says in a defeated tone, “when you came in, you were a mess. You hated your– parents, you hated school — a 1.0 GPA if I remember correctly — and you told me you wanted to kill yourself. Not to mention, you ran away from home to come do this.”

“Wow, okay…And remind me again, who are you?”

“I’m..I’m– Daniel. Um, yeah… I didn’t want to accept you into this experiment, but I couldn’t say no, you insisted. You see, the whole objective that our lab had going into this, was to see how one’s perception of life would change by going through this. I just didn’t think you were the right fit.”

Daniel looks away reaching into a file drawer pulling out a clipboard with a piece of paper. I immediately notice there’s only one question printed.

“So, Ellie, now that you’re back, I want to ask you, what have you learned about life?”

Nothing. Nothing comes to my mind. I mean, I have so much to say but I don’t know how to word it, when I, almost out of instinct, blurt out, “I’m just glad to be back.”

“That’s good to hear. Welcome home.”

I have so many questions I want to ask, but I don’t want to get stuck dwelling on what already happened. A part of me is frustrated that I lost the better part of my life — at least that’s what everyone says. I’m 28 now, but I feel different. More energized? More thrilled? I’m not quite sure.

Before I leave the facility, Daniel hands me a gift, wrapped neatly like a present.

“What’s this?” I ask.

“For you. Open it when you get home, I’m sure you’ll like it.”

I thank Daniel and make my way home. On my way back, I can barely recognize my own city. I see so many new magnificent buildings with stunning architecture, the new UberEats drone delivery system, teleportation modules every other block, and…man, just everything that the future would look like.

I fall face flat onto my bed for the first time in forever, it’s so comfy I can’t even describe it. It honestly felt like I was hugging a life-sized teddy bear. Then I open the present I received from Daniel. As I uncap the lid, the surrounding air glitters. I’ve never seen anything like this before, but there’s a familiar aura radiating from inside. Inside I see a magical orb. It’s a solid sphere of glass textured with the movement of deep blue-purple paint strokes circulating its surface. Every so often it pulsates from blue to green to yellow to every color of the rainbow, it emits a soft feathered glow that lights the room up.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Intrigued by what I see, I scoop up the orb and hold it in my palms. To the touch, there’s this warm fuzzy electric static feel to it that tickles my palms at random points. Though I’m shaking, it’s exhilarating.

After about five seconds, I am transported to another world, one I’m all too familiar with. I’m an observer of the world again, only this time, I can see I’m still holding the orb Daniel gave me. Memories of my days in that void flood back to me, but wash away as quickly as I drop the orb and am brought back to reality.

“No way,” I say, utterly stunned.

I take a second look at the gift box and there’s a note. It’s from Daniel. As I carefully unfold the letter and begin to read, Khaled’s “C’est la vie” plays gently from the kitchen speaker set.

Hi Ellie,
Again, welcome home.
I hope you’re adjusting well to this new world.
A lot has changed since 2040 as I’m sure you can tell.
This is a gift from me to you. I hope this will serve as a valuable reminder to you of the preciousness of life.

I’m sorry things didn’t work out with between us.
I was wrong. I should have believed in you more.
I deeply apologize and hope you can find the strength to forgive me.

Anyways take the day off, have some fun!

See you soon,
Love, Dad ❤

P.S. Made you your favorite on the kitchen counter :)

“Dad?” I’m speechless. With no words to explain how I feel, I head to the kitchen, take a seat, and take the biggest bite out of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — made with love and magic. It’s a miracle.

Life is a Game

In the story, Ellie is a character who moves from having an intrinsic hatred of her life, to enjoying the simple pleasures that is life. After going through her dad’s crazy experiment, having lost every aspect of what it means to be alive and well, Ellie gains a perspective on life that no one can take away from her:

  • Negativity is participatory. Consume it and it will consume you.
  • The miracle of life brings joy and happiness to all, but comes as a package with pain and suffering.
  • How you see the world is always a choice.

Every laugh and good time that comes my way feels ten times better than before I knew such sadness.

— Lori Gottlieb; Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Life is a game.

For a while, Ellie was just watching. Watching her best friend play, watching you and I play, watching everyone play. There’s a moment in the story where Ellie finally realizes how amazing the world is and is just dying to experience life again, so eager to have the controller in hand again.

To put things into perspective:

Imagine you’re a kid again, and your parents bring you on a family road trip to the biggest and most awesome arcade in the country…only to have you watch them have fun on all the arcade games and win all the cool prizes.

That’s not fun.

But most of us forget we’re playing the game of life. We have the opportunity to game our hearts out, and not get jealous from watching our friends win the jackpot. You get to play. I get to play. We all get to play. I will never complain about having the opportunity to play.

Perspective Shifts

It’s a cliché that only when we lose something, do we really appreciate its value and how much it means to us. We take things for granted — our possessions, the opportunities we have, the people in our lives — because we think we’ll have them forever. We won’t. That’s just not how the world works.

It’s just so hard to be grateful when we have everything.

The best way to realize how precious these things are to us is to imagine if we didn’t have those things. Take a moment to think about how you’d feel if someone important in your life just disappears.

A friend: There are 7.8 billion people on earth, and I met you. The laughs we’ve shared, the talks we’ve had, they wouldn’t be anything without you. I could have been born impoverished in Somalia, brought up in Russia, silenced in North Korea, homeless in the US, but I’m here. Hell with it, I could’ve been a damn bus or a caterpillar tanning on a blade of grass in Kentucky. One small, seemingly insignificant decision in my past could have erased us meeting for the first time and our entire history, yet everything about our friendship has changed both of us permanently. I’m glad we met long ago, and that you’re still here with me.

Sushi lunch: Sometimes I just eat sushi to satiate my hunger. Many times it’s not even that good. The life of a student. But what if I couldn’t even have food at all? What if I have some debilitating digestive condition that puts eating next to suffering? What if I don’t even have the money to afford a simple meal? What if I’m the eldest to four siblings and have to walk miles to a superstore just to steal some bread off one of the aisles? What if I was born with a rare condition that left me without a sense of taste? I’m glad I can enjoy food.

A walk in the park: I take a walk every day, to where depends on how I’m feeling. It rains some days but I don’t mind, I’m just happy I can go out and enjoy a walk with some music, a podcast, or an audio-book. I’m grateful because I know so many aren’t so fortunate. Some are burdened with chronic arthritis to the point it hurts with each step, and many folks laying in hospital beds just wish they could take one last walk outside. I’m glad walks bring me so much joy.

A loving family: My parents are the best. I love them so much. Still, I know I am lucky to have such support. Many grow up having lost a mom or dad. Many live in the foster-care system. Many live under an abusive house. I’m glad I have a home, a place I will always feel loved.

No matter who you are, where you are, what you have or what you don’t have, there is always someone doing worse off than you and who wishes they had what you had. You have everything to be grateful for.

My Gift to You

Sometimes, all we need is a reminder. Like Ellie’s father, I want to leave you with a gift. It’s no magical orb, but it’s something you can take with you forever and pull out whenever you need a reminder of how precious life is. I hope this helps you as much as it helped me.

This is it.

It’s a negative visualization exercise where you are guided through a detailed experience of tragedy, one not based on fiction, but one that people are enduring this very moment. This could happen to you, me, or anyone. Tragedy strikes with no warning, and discriminates against no one. And sometimes we have to take a glimpse into the negativity of what could happen in life in order to remember to appreciate the positivity of what we have.

Before you dive in, I’d like to share my own experience with this.

It was 8:06 am on August 21st, 2019. I was in Tainan City, Taiwan for a vacation. I had woken up before my family, and cautiously tucked myself into the cabinet-sized hostel washroom to experience the video without disruptions. As I closed my eyes and started listening to narrator in my headphones, I had no idea what to expect. Within moments, I was fully immersed in it; I imagined that everything that was being said was real. Like Ellie, I was emotionally torn.

When it was all over, the feeling of the morning light re-entering my eyes was rejuvenating. Chills ran down my spine. I sat there for a good 30 seconds taking it all in — still in disbelief — thinking, holy shit I’m alive, I exist…I’m can’t believe I’m halfway across the world… And I swear I’m not even kidding, when I twisted the doorknob to rejoin my awakening family, I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

I know that sounds absolutely mad on the surface — you’ll just have to trust that I’m not — but I guess those are the types of thoughts you have when you feel like you’ve just exited a coma.

Imagine if you lost everything you have, and then got it all back again. Nothing will have changed and yet everything will have changed.

I thought about that for the rest of the day, and that perspective I gained from that video stayed with me for the rest of my trip. It was a sort of spiritual lesson that I hadn’t asked for but needed to learn.

Enjoy every sandwich.

— Warren Zevon, patient of terminal cancer

Thanks for reading,

-MJ

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M dash ( — ) is a way of life — one of joy, peace, & passion.

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