August 31, 2014

The Other #YOLO

YOLO. You Only Live Once.

This acronym has become increasingly popular in symbolyzing a perspective that is focused on the pursuit of pleasure (the senses) as well as achieving one's personal goals and ambitions. Parallels can be drawn with the phrase carpe diem (''seize the day'') and the maxim ''eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.''

Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (1648) is emblematic of carpe diem as a literary genre:

''Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May''
- John William Waterhouse (1909)
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
                       You may forever tarry.

Thomas Jordan's Coronemus nos Rosis antequam marcescant (1637) gives a more comprehensive illustration of carpe diem as idealized during this time period:

Jacob Jordaens, The King Drinks
Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke, and rejoice,
With claret and sherry, theorbo and voice!
The changeable world to our joy is unjust,
      All treasure’s uncertain,
      Then down with your dust!
In frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence,
For we shall be nothing a hundred years hence.

We’ll sport and be free with Moll, Betty, and Dolly,
Have oysters and lobsters to cure melancholy:
Fish-dinners will make a lass spring like a flea,
      Dame Venus, love’s lady,
      Was born of the sea;
With her and with Bacchus we’ll tickle the sense,
For we shall be past it a hundred years hence.

Your most beautiful bride who with garlands is crown’d
And kills with each glance as she treads on the ground,
Whose lightness and brightness doth shine in such splendour
      That none but the stars
      Are thought fit to attend her,
Though now she be pleasant and sweet to the sense,
Will be damnable mouldy a hundred years hence.

Then why should we turmoil in cares and in fears,
Turn all our tranquill’ty to sighs and to tears?
Let’s eat, drink, and play till the worms do corrupt us,
      ’Tis certain, Post mortem
      Nulla voluptas.
For health, wealth and beauty, wit, learning and sense,
Must all come to nothing a hundred years hence.

Life's brevity and fleetingnness found in both poems is understood here as promoting a live-in-the-moment mentality the ultimate aim being to delight one's senses (food, drink, sexuality) in a self-centered way. This lifestyle involves squandering one's money (''in frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence'') without reflecting on the meaning of life (''then why should we turmoil in cares and in fears'').

Three Ages of Man (16th century) - Titian


It should be noted that this discussion focuses on 'YOLO' taken to the extreme--it is not necessarily wrong to pursue ambitions and, to some extent, leisure. Knowing that life is short can be a good incentive to seize unique opportunities and step out of one's comfort zone.

YOLO has it right. You only live once. However, as William Penn said: ''Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.'' Our time on earth is short. How, then, will we use the time that is entrusted to us?

The Book of Psalm says, ''Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.'' Similarly, Because our days are numbered, Paul urges us to ''make the most of every opportunity'' and seek wisdom. James writes that what pleases God is ''to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.''

Our purpose is thus twofold: to seek God's wisdom and goodness as well as caring for the less fortunate. Loving people--both strangers and those around us--requires selflessness and self-sacrifice. It requires us to place others' well-being above our own and invest time and energy in them.

Our knowledge that life on earth is finite should prompt us to seek truth and goodness beyond self-fulfillment, self-gratification and self-actualization.

''Learn to do right; seek justice.''

This life is the only chance we have do good, serve the truth, and make a difference in this world. Let us invest and use it wisely.

''Wreck of Time'' - Mihai Criste

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