W

hen does life happen? When do we go from merely surviving to living? At what point or points do we go from being just cogs inside a machine or people just waiting for something better and become truly alive?

The problem is that we don’t know the answer to that question. At least not in the days we’re living. It’s only when we’re able to look back on the memories we have that we can pick out the moments that rose above the others and see, for ourselves, when we were truly living.

We can only see those moments when they’re gone, we can only respect what we had, what we felt and what we achieved when the days they were a part of have sunk deep below the horizon. Like patterns in a wheat field, they only become clear when viewed from a distance, the kind of distance only years of wisdom can bring.

Yet we carry on, living our lives the best we can, seeking temporary joys to make the days go by easier and never knowing which moments, if any, will play a role in defining who we are and why we are alive. We spend our days groping endlessly for meaning only to find it when looking back through the home movies storied within our own heads.

In that regard we, as humans, have been cursed. We’re the only species that realizes our lives were meant to be something more than just a matter of survival. We were given the gift, either through evolution or some divine plan, to see that life is a precious gift and one that should not be wasted.

However, we were not given the ability to see for ourselves what constitutes living and what not wasting our lives really means Even the epiphanies and revelations that seem to change the world can seem hollow and meaningless when viewed through the lens of history. Like a painter only able to see an inch of canvas at a time, we try to fill in a painting, completely unsure of its meaning or what purpose today’s work provides.

Instead, we can only hope that, either through cosmic coincidence, luck or superhuman planning, that our lives carry forth a meaning and make us beings who lived, not just survived.

But in there, lies the rub, only in death that we can define our lives. Even then though, I’d wager we’ll find it’s not the big strokes that we remember the best, but the fine moments that made them up. Those temporary joys that once left us feeling empty, an extra long embrace, a trivial accomplishment earned after too much work or a simple idea to solve a minor problem, those will be what we remember best and will be most remembered for.

After all, the big picture is far too large to absorb. Rather than remember someone by what he dedicated his life to, we’d much prefer to remember and be remembered for the thousands of little things we did along the way.

So, no matter how noble working toward a larger goal is, we can never forget the small moments shared along the way. They represent us in a way we can’t possibly appreciate in the here and now and represent the few times that we moved beyond just surviving and found that higher purpose.

Because, no matter what we say, the higher purpose is usually the smallest one and moments that make up our lives are the ones closest to our heart.

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