This was probably the first inspiring thing I ever read on the Internet. It was so awesome that I printed off a copy to carry around in my school bag for years, to re-read on long bus rides and to share with friends who were going through tough times. It was written by a young man on the verge of dying of cancer and is so full of life in its rawest, purest form, that it remains one of my favourite essays on any topic. Rest in peace, Matthew (April 2, 1982 – February 15, 2004).
If there is one thing I could tell you...
I don’t think a lot of people sit around and contemplate their lives. I mean, people think about their futures and what they’re going to do, and what they should have done in order to achieve something, but I don’t think anyone contemplates their present. What they’re doing right now. Everyone’s heard of living in the moment or whatever, but I think very few people act on it. Myself included, and that’s something that I regret immensely.
Life is a finite thing. Obviously, everyone’s life is going to end, but mine has a time limit. No surprises for me, and depressingly enough, that time limit is going to run out rather soon. I’ve never really told anyone how long I have left, or what exactly (in great detail) is wrong with me, because I would rather my friends viewed me as a vital, volatile, rather silly human being, but at the age of 21, most people don’t understand or know how to contemplate the thought that someone they know and care about is going to die, and I'm terrified that if they did know, they would abandon me for more secure, lasting relationships.
So every day, every minute is vital to me, the most mundane things are breaths of fresh air. The things that most people take for granted but shouldn’t—a kiss, a pudding fight, a good long walk or an intriguing conversation—are now intensely important to me, and I think they should be important to everyone. The fact that I know I won’t be able to experience these things makes them achingly more important to me, and they make me desperate to achieve them one more time.
I want to close my eyes and kiss a girl one more time; the kind of kiss that makes you feel like you’re floating, the kind where you forget to do something with your hands because it’s so good. I want to go camping, and lie in the grass and think how naively beautiful the day is. I want to shoot off fireworks and run away when the cops pull up. I want someone to hold my hand and tell me something nice about myself. I want to be able to read the paper and deride George W. to someone, and have them hate that asshole with me. I want to sit on a stoop late into the night, drinking shitty beer and telling stories. I want to feel alive, and not dead or dying, and think that those things—the most trivial and passing connections to the world and people in it—are violently important.
So this is my contribution to you. I’m desperately telling you—all of you—to take advantage of your youth and vitality. I hear too many people talking about college and getting shitty jobs afterward. I hear too many people talking about work and how this and that sucks.
Fuck, we’re all wasting our lives doing things that disconnect us from everyone else! You don’t need a four- or five-year plan, and you sure as hell don’t need to worry about feeling innocent and immature again. Worry about making everyday something to talk about, and not just another blank page in your life.
I used to act like you. I had a plan. I had a future, and all that blew away, but right now, I barely have a present, and that’s how I’ve realized the error of our ways. Please, please, don’t get old and die, and die of cancer, and realize you did nothing with your life but make plans that never happened. Don’t miss opportunities anymore. If you like someone, tell them, if you think the time is right to kiss someone, do it. If you feel like you’re in a rut, do something stupid and silly and fun. If you feel the world is ugly, make something beautiful. Stop being so cautious. Some movie line once said, “If you take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”
Trust me, as much as life sucks sometimes, and wow, do I know it sucks, it is still the only thing we know. It is the only thing that matters, and it’s wonderful. Life is a beautiful, ridiculous, tragic disaster, but it’s the only thing we have. So don’t let it lie by the wayside in pursuit of crap that’s barely important. People are the most important resource, and so are the relationships we build with them. I feel the pinch of that more than ever now. If we could spend 400 billion dollars to cure cancer instead of building and maintaining weapons, I wouldn’t have to write this. So this is, essentially, a plea. This is the most personal thing I’ve ever written, and I hope it reaches more people than I ever could.
Don’t forget this is the only life you have; make something worthwhile out of it and no one who you’ve laughed, cried, kissed, and bled with will ever forget you.