Live while you’re alive

2011-02-18 15:37

Free-spirited living is exciting and filled with joy. Aron Ralston’s sudden loss of that freedom is compelling because through his narrative we revisit our own motives for living the way we do. How then can we inspire ourselves towards passionate and cheerful living?

Ralston’s story is so much more than just one about cutting off an arm. ­Although this terrible scene is a vital ­element of an incredible story, it is not the most important. And in this there is an interesting life lesson, and the reason 127 Hours is Oscar material. On this point, director Danny Boyle says: “What gets him out of there is not power but the change that comes from within him.”

1. Check in to the real world

What is the elixir for living in the ­modern age? Living in the real world is a good place to start. Ralston and another ­famous vagabond, Chris McCandless (Into the Wild) spent most of their time ­outside, alone, feeling the wind and the rain, and experiencing the magical sweep of the world first hand.

Reality is ­exhilarating. Contrivances, distractions and escapism are poor substitutes for real life.

2. Find your own unique magic
Nor should we just react to life. What ­really motivates us is something else.

The thing that finally got Ralston to start ­amputating his arm was not pain, or ­dehydration, or the thought of missing his sister’s wedding, or visions of family and his friends. None of these inspired him enough to save his life.

Instead, it was imagining an unborn son that did it.

In 2003, Ralston didn’t have a ­girlfriend, nor was he married or a ­father. Yet it was that image of the little boy that galvanised a resolve that was already there – into what Ralston calls his “epiphany”, one that made the amputation act, with a blunt knife, a life-saving choice.

3. Don’t wait, live now

Ralston’s alter ego is arguably Chris ­McCandless. But Boyle points out the key ­difference between Ralston and McCandless: “When he goes to the wild he doesn’t just sit there, he races through it with his earphones on and he’s timing himself to try to get through it quicker than anyone else and try to climb higher than anyone else. It’s this restlessness about him that’s very urban.”

While McCandless succeeded in his goal of surviving for 100 days in Alaska in winter, he ate toxic seeds while waiting for spring flood waters to subside, and finally died of starvation.

McCandless had been outdoors for more than three months and in a far more weakened condition than Ralston.

McCandless waited to be saved and ­finally died. Survival lesson two: it’s up to you to do what you can to save yourself, don’t wait for help that might not come.

4. Find out for yourself

Amputating his own arm has caused ­cinema audiences to faint. Presumably this is more horrifying than having ­someone else do it.

To make sure things happen in your own life, do it yourself.

5. Entitlement = Misery. Humility = ­Happiness

The underlying theme to 127 Hours is ­humility, something conspicuously absent in modern living.

And with humility comes grace, something the writer ­Cormac McCarthy (The Road) says is “the power that heals men and brings them to safety long after all other resources are exhausted”.

Once he’d disconnected himself from the rock, Ralston knew he had won his life back. It was his humility that also ­imbued him with a sense of gratitude for the whole experience.

Instead of focusing on the cost of ­living, find the joy of living. The answer is different for each of us but it lies ­buried in the narrative we make for ­ourselves and sometimes in the story we can still imagine for ourselves.

All that remains, then, is to have the courage to go out and live.

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