As a political science and philosophy major in college, I read more commentary on the human condition than anyone probably needs in a lifetime. But one observation, made by Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan, has always stayed with me. In his discourse on humanity and war, he penned a phrase that has been repeated often throughout history: “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Now, nearly 400 years after Hobbes wrote these words and his name is more associated with a cartoon tiger, our world is radically different. We are no longer solitary. The standard of living of most of the world’s citizens is at or near its highest point in history. There are certainly pockets — sometimes large — of “solitary, poor, nasty and brutish,” but in a global sense, we no longer live in Hobbes’ world.
What about “short” you may ask? Why did I leave that off the list? Short can’t be eliminated from the general list describing life, because that remains the one descriptor over which we have the least control. As much a modern medicine has extended our average life expectancy, our power as individuals over the random events that affect our longevity is minimal at best.
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been consumed in thought about the fragility and potential brevity of our lives. A fellow writer, Katie, who I’ve “met” through Twitter but never in person, was suddenly struck by meningitis, a unrelenting disease that can ravage even a healthy body with little warning. Earlier this week she felt fine. Today, she lies in hospital bed, 28 years old, with doctors aggressively treating her to save her life.
Just seven weeks ago, she wrote in her blog “My new personal maxim is ‘nothing less.’ That is, nothing less than the best for myself, my friends, my relationships, and my life.” Her writings give a window into a person who had finally felt on course and determined to take control over her own pursuit of life — a life now in jeopardy of ending far too soon.
Although I don’t have a truly personal connection with Katie, I have been following the updates on her condition like she was a good friend or family member. I can’t explain why, except for simple reason that it seems cosmically unjust that someone who has so recently found a direction in their life would be interrupted so abruptly. Some might say that there is a reason for everything, but I don’t buy into such easy comfort.
I keep returning to Katie’s words…nothing less than the best for myself, my friends, my relationships, and my life. It is my deepest hope that Katie fights harder than she ever has to beat this illness and she can return to her quest, reinvigorated and more determined to find the best. It is my deepest conviction to never forget the inspiration in Katie’s words.