Living Life Once, Living Life Well
We have probably all had someone say to us, “you only live once,” when we’ve talked about doing something we want to do, but are unsure whether we can. And when it’s been said to us we’ve probably agreed, because there is truth in the sentiment; we only live once so we must experience life not run away from it, we must grab opportunities that present themselves even if we have to move out of our natural comfort zone to take them, and we must take chances in life.
And of course the message to grab opportunity while you can, and to live life to the full, is perhaps never more pertinent than when we are young. Without the responsibilities and experiences of adulthood upon us, there is the potential for a very real opportunity to just live life, and in doing so find our place in the world. Being young is a special time, we are told, and whilst we are young, we should celebrate this.
But what if you are a teenager and life scares you? What if you are teenager and there are too many choices, and the choices you do have don’t feel like the right ones? What if you just don’t feel at home in your own skin or know who you are yet or even how you might get there and find out?
This is how Ana feels in My Second Life, and not simply because she lived a life before as Emma, but because she is 15 and this is just how it can sometimes feel being 15.
I certainly remember feeling some of these challenges 15, and the effect was paralysing. I mean, to me everyone else looked like they’d already got it sorted - who they were and where they fitted in the world – and really I was fearful, possibly even a bit lost. I was meant to be living life, grabbing at it, celebrating… but somehow I didn’t know how, and there was a pressure in this, both from myself and from the outside world, which made me feel like I just wasn’t cutting it. When you feel like this it’s hard to grab at life and live it well.
Of course Ana in My Second Life has more to deal with than most; she is plagued by the memories of Catherine’s death and the life she has lived before when she was Emma, and it stops her really living her life day to day. How can she grab at her life and live it, when she doesn’t feel like she knows who she is? How can she grab at her life and live it, when she doesn’t recognise herself as the person she wants to be?
I didn’t intend for the conclusion to My Second Life to send some kind of message to the reader – I don’t think any writer writes a story with a message in mind – but undoubtedly when I came across the quote from Henry James’s The Ambassadors, I knew there was something in those words that echoed Ana’s story, which is why I wanted the quote to sit, as it does, at the end of the book.
I don’t wish to give too much away – in case you go on to read – except to say that out of the darkness of Ana’s story there is hope, and in that hope there is a resolve of a kind. A resolve that says that life doesn’t need to be grabbed at or hurried or pressurised in order to be lived; it just needs to be recognised as precious, important, significant even – and in that simple recognition you will do the best by it – you will find a way to live it for yourself, and in so doing, live it well.