When our kids were small one of the life lessons I wanted to impart the most was the value of enjoying life. You might think that kids know how to do that anyway – and they do – but parents, teachers and other authority figures are constantly preaching responsibility and accountability and duty and a bunch of other adult values. Not to mention the school system’s soul-killing trinity of rote, conformity and submission.
Is it any wonder so many adolescents end up wondering whether life is even worth living? Life is worth living; in fact, life is the most fantastic and wonderful thing in this universe. To have it is like winning a thousand lotteries in a row – some people call it a miracle – and when you consider the odds of you being born, it is a de facto miracle.
And I wanted to make sure my kids realized and remembered that.
So I did what old-money, billionaire families like the Vanderbilt and Rothschild dynasties do. I created a family motto. And I did it without a penny of old money or even a single billion in new money. I did it for ten bucks and I didn’t even need to spend that.
Our family motto is “Squeeze the juice from life.” But to give it the kind of gravity a family motto really needs I went online and paid an Oxford University Latin professor to translate it into proper Latin. After all, what’s a motto if it isn’t in Latin? I wanted the best! And back came our new proverb:
“Expreme sucum e vita”
which is pronounced: ex-PREE-may SOO-cum EE WE-tah
That was the easy part. Now, how do you do it? How do you get all the enjoyment, wonder and satisfaction out of your life?
I suppose I could write an entire book on that – and maybe I should – but one of the quick ways to become sensitive to the wonderful things in your life is to think about losing them. Once you practice that skill the next step is to think about losing something during the moment you are doing it.
So when I was riding my motorcycle up the highway through the mountains with my young daughter on the back – I’d think about some circumstance like age or disability or death that would prevent me from riding. I’d think about what I’d miss. And right in front of me was my list of all the things I’d wish I could do just one more time. The smell of the pine trees when we’d ride by the area that the loggers had freshly cut that day, the feeling on our faces from the cool, moist air along sections of the river, the temperature changes at different elevations, the sensation of leaning into a tight corner and the pull of acceleration when I twisted the throttle and knowing what a thrill that brought to my daughter.
And later, when we’d sit on a bench in front of the little store where we stopped for a Coke, she never could have guessed why I studied her face and delighted in her smile and listened to the music of her little voice and how I thought about how fantastically fortunate I was to share that fleeting experience with her. It was because I was paying attention to what I had while knowing one day I would not have it. Therein lies the sweetest of life’s juice.
It’s a simple trick of perspective that transforms a mundane chore of having to visit the local dump into an adventure of loading a pick-up truck with the help of two of my sons and then telling stories all the way along the drive, joking with the guys at the dump and being deeply and profoundly grateful that I’m alive to do it.
That is my way of squeezing the juice from life. Every day passes by and will never happen the same way again. We only have one chance to squeeze the juice out of today and then it’s forever gone. We all have a tendency to wish away the negative things in life. We wish for and believe we will have a future without that awful neighbor, without all the monthly bills, without the stress and worry of an intractable teenager. But we seem to forget that with them will go the other neighbor we love, the comforts the bills are paying for and the little girl on the back of our motorcycle.
So while we have what we have and are what we are, we need to squeeze the juice out of it. But here’s the biggest trick: it’s not about doing it nostalgically, thinking about yesterday – it’s about what you are doing today – right now – reading this – going about your mundane tasks today – that’s when the juice must be squeezed.
That’s what I wanted my kids to learn. I never gave a hoot in hell about knowing state capitals or that other mandatory school busy work. Do you think kids in England and Japan know the US state capitals? It’s trivia. Every nation has it’s own trivia and it won’t help you squeeze the juice from life. Trivia is fine – I know plenty of it, but never let it take your eyes off the ball.
Here’s wishing you, Expreme sucum e vita!
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