Over and over again, I’ve wondered when I might go and what I might leave behind. There will be no brood of brats to carry on my name, probably just a yowling cat, a pile of artwork, a jumble of Viking re-enactment gear, and a shit-ton of unfinished or unpublished stories, articles, and poems. And probably my half-eaten corpse. (I’ve been thinking I should invest in one of those automatic cat food dispensers.)
But honestly, I do ask myself what I want to achieve and what contributions I want to make to the world, even if “the world” is just my little circle of friends and family. I want to create something that says “Una was here”.
When I need inspiration, I watch Frida. Frida Kahlo is my hero. Hers was a life of crippling physical and emotional pain: a polio infection, the trolley accident, the broken bones, the re-broken bones, a gangrenous foot, a marriage that was as much an epic love story as a tragic saga, years spent struggling for recognition in her beloved Mexico… Shall I go on? She took a life of darkness and suffering and wrung colour and beauty from it. And yet as I watch her life being portrayed over and over again, it’s easy to forget that behind all the carefully chosen and edited scenes, all the glimpses of a reality long past, Frida’s lived experience was far worse and far more brilliant than any carefully orchestrated moment can demonstrate. It’s easy to celebrate the retrospective, but there aren’t many who would be willing to endure the daily onslaught of agonies that Frida withstood, even if it meant achieving what she did.
Frida was a star that burned bright and hot, a supernova of passion. I would be invisible in her light. My work may never be so bold or creative, but I will shine anyway, so even if my poor light simply sputters out, at least there will be a few who knew its warmth.
So many lights go out all the time. They may seem small and dim and cold against a brilliant foreground of blinding genius, or they may just be too far away to even notice. The people on the street, on the subway, at the office—what if we could see their fire, too? All would be transformed in our eyes. They would no longer be the fleshy automata that sweep the floors and fill prescriptions and ask for spare change. Instead they would be glowing with contained passion, searching for the right moment to explode into the world and set it on fire.
Sadly, most of us just seem to burn out, burn down, collapse into dim brown dwarfs. The flame that burns within cools if we do not feed it enough, if we make it use its fuel too slowly. Maybe we are afraid to fail or afraid to succeed. Maybe we are afraid to live. Maybe we think that if we hide our passions, life will be kind, pleasant, and easy. It won’t be.
Life is full of suffering. Feed the flames and make that suffering worthwhile.
I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.