To Be Alive…

An Alpha & Beta Story

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive; to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” –attributed to Marcus Aurelius

Beta was making what we call Cyclops toast, one of our favorite breakfasts (others may call it ‘Eggs-in-a-Blanket’). That’s where you butter a slice of bread, fold and tear a center hole, place in the skillet butter-side down and then crack an egg to pour into the hole. Cook until the bread is browned and egg white solid, then flip and finish cooking. The egg in the center stares at you while you salt and pepper (to taste).

Beta has become quite the artisan with eggs and deftly served up enough for me, Alpha and herself. As often happens at the kitchen table, we talked about music and many things. From a conversation the previous evening, I knew each had a song they wanted me to listen to and then tell them what I thought. But when they mentioned it to me, they were a bit hesitant over something with the two songs by the same artist. LOGIC: ‘Anxiety’ and ‘1-800-273-8255’ (a phone number and I immediately flashed on Tommy Tutone’s 1986 hit ‘867-5309/Jenny’ and now that song’s gonna stick in my ear for the rest of the day). They told me their hesitancy about them was their strong rap element. Alpha and Beta know I’m not fond of that style of music. But I’m open-minded and asked, “Why do you want me to listen to them?”

“They both have a good message…” Beta started to hand me her phone, “here are the lyrics to the first one.”

I waved that off not really wanting to read the words to a rap song. “I like to listen to songs first before I learn the lyrics.” The rhythm of the song guides how I would sing them, so a sense of the way it moves and unfolds is important. Beta nodded and pressed to play ‘Anxiety,’ her phone Bluetooth paired to a Jambox speaker on the kitchen table. It started slow and a bit Motown bluesy… then accelerated into the rapping… then decelerated to end the way it began. I had followed all but the fastest of the words sung. Afterward, I pulled them up… here are the poignant pieces:

“I looked around and I told myself I was safe, I was fine But I was convinced that something was wrong. Before I knew it, I felt as though I was going to fall and fade away…”

The song goes on and into:

“I am unhappy. Not with life. But with this feeling. I am scared, I am human, I am a man. But I look in the mirror and I see a child. I am an adult who recognizes grownups don’t really know shit. And they never did. And it scares me. Cause now I’m just a grownup who doesn’t know shit…”

Then it comes around to the climb out:

“We will remember despite the attacks and constant filling of our mind and body being on the edge. That we are alive. And any moments we have free of this feeling we will not take for granted. We will rejoice in this gift that is life. We will rejoice in this day that we have been given. We will accept our anxiety and strive for the betterment of ourselves. Starting with mental health. We will accept ourselves as we are and we will be happy with the person we see in the mirror. We will accept ourselves.”

That song ended and Alpha was ready with hers. She got a bit miffed at me when I declined—again—to read the lyrics she offered to me on her phone. “Let’s listen to it first.” I smiled to let her know I wasn’t annoyed. She thumbed play, and ‘1-800-273-8255’ began. Same rhythmic Motown-feeling start that matured into something more, much deeper and darker, but with a bright ending. After listening, I checked the lyrics and here’s the gritty heart of the song (the dark and the light):

“I’ve been on the low. I been taking my time. I feel like I’m out of my mind. It feels like my life ain’t mine. I don’t wanna be alive.”

That theme rolled down to a bottom and then came up (a woman now singing); like a diver gone too deep, that fights their way up to break the surface with a gasp.

“I want you to be alive. You don’t gotta die. Now, lemme tell you why. It’s the very first breath when your head’s been drowning underwater. And it’s the lightness in the air when you’re there chest to chest with a lover. It’s holding on, though the road’s long and seeing light in the darkest things. And when you stare at your reflection finally knowing who it is, I know that you’ll thank God you did.”

The topics of both songs struck home with me: I’ve experienced the loss of my mother from suicide and also know people I care for who have issues dealing with depression and anxiety. I’ve been blessed with never having to deal with either one but know how hard they can make life and how tragic inability to cope with them can be.

Alpha, Beta and I talked about the songs after I thanked them for introducing me to the music and artist. I asked what they thought the messages were in each song. Each had a good grasp of what to take away from what the artist was trying to say—the story he told through the lyrics. No, “I thought it sounded good…” Or… “it was cool, I like the music.” Long ago they learned I don’t accept superficial answers. I want them to dig in and think about the things they see, read and hear. And they never let me down with their own, self-determined, insight and understanding.

I told them that it’s important to be comfortable with who you (we) are, but it’s critical—in life—that you (we) not accept less than what you (we) are capable of or what’s truly deserved. And what you (we) deserve does not just come from others; the most important things come from our inner dialogue—what we say, what we believe—about ourselves. We talked about how we (all people) are scared or unsure at times, and for some, it’s a terrible burden borne almost every moment of every day.

Maybe the most important thing we talked about that I want them to take to heart, is this: there’s a difference between living and being alive. Merely living is just day-by-day dying. Being alive is appreciating all of life; those around you, experiences past, present and anticipated in the future… feeling each breath, seeing every color, hearing all the sounds that surround us. Dancing—even singing—to the music no matter who’s there or not there. Life is for you to enjoy, but you have to truly be alive to do that.

The opening epigraph to this piece is a quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Since 1982, I’ve owned a copy of ‘Meditations’ his series of personal essays and read them each year. There is much wisdom in them, and I’m long past being amazed at how humans—our frailties, our wants, and desires—have not really changed in the nearly 1,900 years since his writings. That quote attributed to him is also great–to repeat–as an ending for this.

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive; to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

PLEASE READ: This--below--is where intelligent comments are exchanged and threads of meaningful and thought-provoking discussion can take place. Some of my favorite stories I've written started with such exchanges and through them I've met some truly wonderful people. This comment section is a place where it's almost old-school in that responses--if one is needed--may not be immediate but will come. Kind of like postal mail correspondence, an easier pace that allows thoughtfulness and not knee-jerk fingers flying over keyboard replies, or something that comes out as top of mind, a stream of conscious superficiality. I hope to hear from and interact with you on anything I've written that sparks a thought or urge to comment.

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