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Considering The Price Of Life

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
Henry David Thoreau


Everything in life has a price and the price to be paid is determined by each of us according to our individual values.

For some, material wealth has the most value while others place a higher value on the esoteric. Some of us value family above all else.  Others consider faith or their ideology or their profession to be the most valuable thing in their lives.

Most of us place the highest value on our own lives but we seldom think about it. In fact in practice, for many, life is cheap; especially when it comes to the lives of others. Suicide bombers are indicative of those who place less value on life, including their own, than they do on a cause or belief.  Even in democratic nations, the lives of young men and women are considered expendable in service to the nation and the centuries are filled with the forgotten lives of millions who died from the wars of others.

Most of us never have to confront the issue of what life is worth until it our time to leave it which seems kind of odd to me considering that we are all going to die at some point. The only real questions are when and how you die and how much value did you place on your life while you lived it?

Killing others isn’t the only way to cheapen life. Sometimes, we cheapen the value of life simply by what we did with the life we were given.

There is a something inside each of us; a consciousness that the religious call the soul and that others call the spirit. Whatever it is, we all have it within us. It is what makes us sentient; aware of ourselves and each other.

It is where our feelings reside and where the conscience is anchored. Based on my personal beliefs, I call it a soul but you can define and call it whatever you like. In the end, it amounts to the same thing.

To paraphrase Thoreau, how much of your soul are you prepared to trade for something? How much of your values and your principles are you prepared to compromise in support of an ideology, a system of belief or to acquire things?

I stand to be corrected and because this is the Internet, no doubt I will be corrected by more than a few, but it seems to me that life has a currency and it is our soul that pays the price.

It’s like the picture of Dorian Grey. We appear to remain unchanged to those we know but our soul is like that picture hidden in an attic that changes with every decision we make. What it looks like when we die will depend on how we spent our lives.

It’s clear that you can’t take money with you into the Great Beyond and while there remains a fair amount of disagreement on what happens to the soul, nobody really knows for sure.

Virtually all of the major religions teach that the soul lives on in one form or another, so here’s the question that I keep banging my head against.

If it’s established that you can’t load up your Lexus with all the material things you acquired in your life, if you can’t take the power and privilege you compromised your principles to achieve, how much real value do those things actually have?

It seems to me that if there remains some possibility, especially for the believers of one faith or another, that life is eternal, then the only thing of value we might actually have is our soul which begs the question, why does it get devalued by most of us throughout our lives?

Even if you believe that this life is it – there ain’t no more after you die, you don’t know that for a fact. It is a belief no different from the belief held by others that life is eternal.  I think it might be more prudent to arrive at death with a soul that has been nurtured but unfortunately won’t be needed because there is no more life after the death of this one than in arriving at death to discover that there is a lot going on in the next life but the way you lived your life has left you ill prepared for it

Even if you arrived at death with a soul well-nourished by compassion, kindness and generosity only to discover that there is nothing more than the great black emptiness, I believe you will still have lived a better life – a more rewarding life than one based on compromising your principles, your values and your integrity for fleeting political power or more money to spend on things you don’t really want or need.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ” Romans 6:23

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” Hindu teaching

“Death is merely moving from one home to another.  The wise man will spend his main efforts in trying to make his future home the more beautiful one.”  Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Tomashov (the Kotzker Rebbe)

“Though we know death is certain, we have not prepared ourselves for it.”  Hamid al-Qasyrasi

It would seem that almost all major religions advise preparing the soul for the next life but even if you reject religion and do not believe in either God or the eternal life of the soul, most atheists believe that is no reason to cheapen your life.

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” Christopher Hitchens.

And so, my friends, even if we are not in agreement about faith, God, the spirit or life beyond the death of this one, there seems to be some universal agreement on this one point.

It is better to live your life as if it is priceless than to cheapen it by giving up who you are simply to achieve or acquire something. It is better to respect the value of the life of others than to cheapen our own lives by devaluing theirs.

I believe it is better to prepare for death with a soul that is healthy and well-nourished by living a life that places the highest value on life – all life – than to face death with nothing but material wealth and even more regret.

How much of your life will you exchange in payment for something you want or in which you believe? It will depend, I suppose, on what you value in life. Only each of us can decide that for ourselves – for each of us prices everything in life based on our own values and it is our values and what we do with them that will determine the life we live and that may well determine the death we will face.

It is up to each of us to determine for ourselves just how cheap life will be – both our own individual lives and the lives of others.


© 2013 Maggie’s Bear

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