Today my wife and I have a deep sense of joy and satisfaction as we celebrate with both our sons their new internships. But even more to the point, we have joy that they are living a counter-cultural good life.
As I walked around campus after class today, I began to reflect on the dominant narrative of a good life that is broken into two phases. The first, long, laborious phase has us focusing on accumulation. We accumulate education so that we can exchange it for a job. We use the job to accumulate money so that we can exchange it for a home, for wealth, for status, for networks, for power. And some day, if we live responsibly enough and long enough, we’ll be able to live into the second, comfortable retirement phase. But how relatively few succeed? And how much is sacrificed in means to achieve the ends?
I see as a counter-cultural good life a deep appreciation, and actuality, that we have a choice and sense of that choice to be a valued member of community today, as we are, and not just for who we might become. We participate in learning experiences not for that which we are accumulating to someday exchange for something else, but rather for the use of that education today to be and do that which we value. Said more pointedly, education isn’t an early step in the accumulation phase, it is a lifelong part of being more fully human. Likewise a job in the good life — it’s not a step in the accumulation phase but another site of being more fully human.
Loss of the good life, then, isn’t that we miss out on accumulating things to reach the second, comfortable retirement phase. It’s when people cannot be that which they value being and doing, that which gives them a deep sense of purpose and value, that which lets them flourish in the now, not in some future that is some unknown number of exchanges away. Loss of a good life happens when people are tracked into jobs that do not pay a living wage, or into responsible jobs that will help them accumulate wealth for retirement, instead of jobs to which the feel a deep sense of calling. It happens when people grind through an education developing marketable skills, instead of reveling in education for the thrill of it.
God willing, I will die with a long todo list. But whether I die today, or tomorrow, or a year from now, a decade from now, or five decades from now, I long for a funeral in which people don’t weep over that which was unfulfilled, but that good life that was fulfilled to the extent possible, every day.
My longing is to reclaim community so that every person, and all of creation, can similarly have and sense their choice to do the same.
My joy and satisfaction is in the confidence that my sons do have, do sense, and are exercising their choice to be more fully human today and every day.