The Haunting Words And Images That Might Change The Way You Look At Your Whole Existence

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This poem isn't about the past or the future. It's about your life right now.

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Chris Hedges: On living. Living is no laughing matter. You must live with great seriousness, like a squirrel, for example. I mean, without looking for something beyond and above living, I mean living must be your whole occupation.

Living is no laughing matter. You must take it seriously, so much so and to such a degree that, for example, your hands tied behind your back, your back to the wall, or else in a laboratory in your white coat and safety glasses, you can die for people, even for people whose faces you've never seen, even though you know living is the most real, the most beautiful thing. I mean, you must take living so seriously that even at 70, for example, you'll plant olive trees, and not for your children, either, but because although you fear death you don't believe it, because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

Let's say we're seriously ill, need surgery, which is to say we might not get up from the white table. Even though it's impossible not to feel sad about going a little too soon, we'll still laugh at the jokes being told, we'll look out the window to see if it's raining, or still wait anxiously for the latest newscast.

Let's say we're at the front for something worth fighting for, say. There, in the first offensive, on that very day, we might fall on our face, dead. We'll know this with a curious anger, but we'll still worry ourselves to death about the outcome of the war, which could last years.

Let's say we're in prison and close to 50, and we have 18 more years, say, before the iron doors will open. We'll still live with the outside, with its people and animals, struggle and wind. I mean with the outside beyond the walls. I mean, however and wherever we are, we must live as if we will never die.

This earth will grow cold, a star among stars and one of the smallest, a gilded mote on blue velvet. I mean this, our great earth. This earth will grow cold one day, not like a block of ice or a dead cloud even, but like an empty walnut it will roll along in pitch-black space.

You must grieve for this right now, you have to feel this sorrow now, for the world must be loved this much if you're going to say "I lived."

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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A video version of the original poem written by novelist/poet Nâzım Hikmet and read by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. Thumbnail image by Aaron Stidwell found on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

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