Despite understanding the need for such work, I felt sick about doing it myself. Literally. I became physically ill. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to spend my life creating tools whose purpose was to take life. I didn’t want to have to look back some day in the distant future and accept the fact that I had spent my career developing instruments of death.
I am not denigrating those who do. The work was and is essential. And those involved in it can review their lives with contentment.
But for me that was impossible. When I neared the end of my life, I wanted to be able to say it was a life well lived—by my own definition of what that meant.
Wouldn’t we all want that? Implied from what I just said is the belief that what “well lived” means depends on the individual. I had an acquaintance who built bombs for our military for a living and loved doing it. He felt he had had a life well lived.
I’ve often wondered, if we always kept in mind how we’d want to feel at the end, would it influence how we acted nearer the beginning?
Would we be kinder?
Would we be more understanding of others?
Would we check our anger?
Would we feel less need to “get back” at someone?
Would we not do the stupid things that we do?
Certainly, there is much I would do differently if I could relive times in my life. If I’d said to myself before I took a regrettable action, do you really want to entertain the memories this would create, would it have persuaded me to act differently?
Perhaps, though, that’s being too harsh. We are imperfect beings. We will make mistakes. It’s impossible to be perfect and, after all, who really wants to be around someone who is perfect? Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Why did you act so stupidly?” Maybe it should be, “Did you learn anything from the experience, and will it help you not to repeat the blunder?”
So, as we look back on our lives, I think we have to consider them overall. Not on individual actions unless they are so egregious they can’t be put aside. Murder comes to mind. But rather maybe we should look at one’s total life, considering questions such as the following.
Was I more often than not kind?
Was I more often than not understanding?
Was I more often than not a good spouse or friend?
Was I more often than not a good parent?
Was I more often than not someone who tried to make the lives of others better?
Was I more often than not happy with my job?
I think if we can answer these and similar questions in the affirmative, we have done well and have the right to feel content with the life we have lived.