Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What am I willing to die for?” It expresses the will to do something so extremely that one is willing to die in doing it. This is a beautiful way of showing the spirit that will enable one to persevere to the very end in accomplishing something. It resonates with bushido, and overcoming the fear of death through complete service. There are even times that people feel the need to sacrifice their lives for a cause.
But there is also a problem with this way of thinking. The inevitable end is death. There is sacrifice. People become martyrs. And their work in this world ends. For some people, this may be a good ending, dying for a cause. They might think, “We’re going to die anyway, so why not die for something good.”
But most of us choose to not die for something. We live, although our state of living may be half alive, half dead, half awake, half asleep, never fully engaged in a meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling life. We live in apathy, cynicism, and callousness in how we treat ourselves and others.
How can we get to a way of living in which we are caring, gentle, and fully alive?
What if we asked, “What am I willing to live for?” What means so much to me that I could consciously, intentionally, and mindfully choose to live for it? What might that be for you? For some people, lost in despair and hopelessness, this may be an elusive idea.
My father, plagued by alcoholism, depression, and suicidal thoughts, told me that when he asked himself that question, the clear answer was that he wanted to live for his children.
In the film Letters from Iwo Jima, we see how humans face this question in the most desperate circumstances. As the enemy forces overwhelm their defenses and the Japanese general contemplates his impending ritual suicide, he reflects on living and dying.
Though I swore to fight here till the end for my family
There’s another me that hesitates to die because of my family
Facing imminent death, the soldier realizes that what he was willing to die for is what he now wants to live for. There is tragedy in this destructive way of living that asks us, “What are you willing to die for?” But knowing this can help us realize what we are willing to live for. For some people, like the general, this realization comes late in life when we have little time left. If we are fortunate to have more time, we can transform our passion into a way of being that is constructive and gentle.
If we ask ourselves, “What am I willing to live for?” What would our answer be? We may discover that we truly have reason to live. It may help us to know what to do with our precious lives now, and would want to do tomorrow, if we are given another day.
Ask yourself, “What am I willing to live for?” If this is too intimidating and difficult to answer, try to focus on what’s around you, what’s right in front of you. Think local, of something in your grasp, something possible. Think real, something realistic that needs to be done and you have the ability to do. Think small, it doesn’t matter how small the thing is. Make it simple by asking, “What am I willing to live for today, now?” “What needs to be done today, that if I don’t do it, it won’t get done?”