To Live Only One Life


“kris44118″at Book of Marvels wrote the following in her blog post:

Years ago, I read Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being and was haunted by ideas that sprang from this passage, “We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come…We live everything as if comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold.”

I found this quote incredibly fascinating, especially having read (and loved) Kundera’s novel–where was the line? I missed it, and yet here it was again, facing me at a critical point in my life: a rich, delicious quote.

So many times, I have been told (or I tell myself), “You only live once,” as a cue to more whimsical, spontaneous activity or to the pursuit of an intimidating dream. But here, in the line, “Living only one life” that says we live in a sort of ignorance, is another dimension to the puzzle of life. We live only one life, on our own trajectory, with no basis for comparison, never knowing really what COULD be or what it REALLY feels like to be someone else.

I like it.

I like that we have our own destinies and that we ought to accept things as they come (as well as make the most of them). It helps me to think this way, at least at this point in time. Though it’s a somewhat lonely thought, it gives me great comfort to know that we really do only live one life.

It also comfort me to think that we are improvising each and everyday. It makes my mistakes more forgivable–after all, I was not prepared, we were not prepared!

In a sense, we are both powerless and capable.

I sit here, in London, making the most of my life, at least as much as I can manage, and as I can improvise.

Perhaps it is this improvisation that makes writing so challenging–a writer must carry this element (of living only one life) into her story, and into the characters. Though the writer creates the story, she must surrender to the lives of the characters who live in a place of improvisation and ignorance. The characters live everything as if comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold.

And that–that is brave.



Filed under Life, Miscellaneous, Travel

4 responses to “To Live Only One Life

  1. If I had multiply lives to compare this one to, I’d constantly beating myself up for not doing something different and/or better. I’m glad I have no way of finding out whether I would have been happier as a doctor, or if I hadn’t gone to Paris, or if I had gotten married and had kids in my 20s. I live in ignorant bliss 🙂

  2. That’s so true, and also it’s very heartening to think of life this way. We do our best. I had an art teacher in high school who used to say “We can only do the best that we can do” or something along those lines. Rock on, dear Jade. Enjoy each moment. Life is fleeting, ephimeral and beautiful at times.

  3. Eva

    Funny that I came across your site today. I’ve been thinking about Unbearable Lightness of Being for the last few days. I read it in high school, and I didn’t get it at all. Just remember thinking the guy was kind of a jerk. But the book still kind of resonates in my mind in a way that makes me think that if I re-read it, it’d blow my mind–and that quote has made my decision! I go to the bookshelves to search excitedly!

  4. A very good quote Jade to remember. Life takes on a more sacred meaning when we realize this is the one and only life we have. When I think of this, I also wonder what it is we leave behind that is important. What imprint we make on someone else that makes them remember we were here? What memories are we creating that have value now and in the future that last? When I think of those things it helps me live in a way that matters most….

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