When this column started some 12 years ago, my editor Bernard Nderitu and I deliberated over what to call it.
We went through several options but the one that felt right at first mention was “That’s Life’. That was it. Because we all say those words at one point or another, and they briefly encompass our experiences — the good, not so good, even the experiences we are indifferent about.
What I have since come to learn is all of us have a life metaphor, a lens through which we interpret the world. For some that metaphor is “Life is hard”, and they will repeat this to themselves and others, particularly when they face challenging situations.
There is also the metaphor, “Life is meaningless”, a view subscribed to by those who like to quote Solomon in Ecclesiastes.
Another metaphor is “Life is a dance”, and those who hold this view are usually musical, artistic beings who link the ebbs and flows of one’s existence to the moves of skilled dancers.
Then there are those who believe that “Life is duty”, a view commonly held by persons given to service, both to God and country.
They believe they have to fulfil a mission.
What about “Life is a daring adventure” a paraphrase of Hellen Keller’s famous quote: “Life is a daring adventure or nothing.” The adventurous set out to experience their world, seeking new paths and ways of being, going where most mortals will not.
One of my favourite metaphors, is “Life is a gift”, perhaps because I enjoy receiving and giving gifts, so birthdays and Christmas have always been a big production in our house. No one is allowed to tear the wrapping. No, the gift is unfolded slowly.
Life, I like to think, may not be or turn out how we wanted, but it is always a good thing.
The thing about life metaphors is that they become coloured lens through which we view the world. Depending on the colour of your lens, everything you see will either have a blue, yellow, pink or green tint to it.
In reality, the tint does not exist except on your lens. But so used are we to our glasses that we may not know that. So what is life then?
Perhaps it is none of these and all of these. It could be anything we want it to be.
The more important question is which lens are we wearing? Is it the right one for us? Or the one we were given by some well-meaning person? You see, sometimes our life metaphor was given to us by a parent who regularly said, “Don’t joke with life. It is hard!”
But does it matter what our metaphor is, what the colour of our lens is?
Only to the extent that we are all painters of the life we desire. Each day, we pick up the brush of our life, and through our daily experiences draw on the canvas of our existence. The lens we have on determines what ends up on the canvas.
If we expect to find hardship, we usually do. If we expect to find sorrow, there’s no end to it. If we expect to dance, we usually will.
In essence, this requires us to examine the life metaphors we have carried with us up to now, and change the ones that no longer suit us.
Mother Teresa said, “Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realise it. Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfil it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it. Life is life, fight for it.”
Life is usually whatever we say it is.