“Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.”
– Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)
These words from Henry Van Dyke are a positive reminder to me that life is filled with opportunities. In every moment that we experience life upon this Earth, we are given the chance to learn, explore, grow, and make a difference. Life is a privilege, even when its conditions are challenging. Life may not always be rosy or easy, but it is to be experienced directly and fully, and when possible, meaningfully.
Van Dyke says that “life…gives you the chance…”. He doesn’t say that life guarantees happiness, or success, or wealth, or fame. What he does say is that life gives you the chance to do and to experience. When I think of my daily life, I see that I receive many opportunities to interact with people I care about, that I have work to do that gives meaning to my life and the lives of others, and that I have the ability to enjoy time for myself in recreation. It may seem simple, but the chances are there for me to make something of these experiences in my day, and to take something away from them, too.
When I get to the part of the quote, “to look up at the stars”, I understand that phrase in various ways. First, I think it means that I have the opportunity, by virtue of life in the physical realm, to use my senses to perceive the world around me; that I can literally look up at the stars. I think also that Van Dyke might have meant that our natural world was meant to be enjoyed and cherished. Life gives us the chance to see that we are surrounded by beauty. Finally, I like to believe that “to look up at the stars” may mean “to wonder, imagine, or to look beyond ourselves”. I don’t know if Henry Van Dyke meant that idea, but for me this is a very real part of the human experience. It is what fuels our hearts and minds to learn, to discover, and to accomplish. Whenever I look up at the stars, I am filled with wonder. I remember that the universe is so vast, and the stars so distant. When I think about it, my existence, our existence, in that vast space is nothing short of a miracle.
I know that each of us will walk through life having different experiences and coming away, in the end, with different learning and loving outcomes. It makes me sad to know that some will have tremendously challenging conditions to deal with or overcome, while I will have lived (at least to this point in time) in relative ease. I don’t have the answer for the question, “Why?”. I try not to evaluate life’s experiences, judging them as good or bad. I try to see them as experiences that can lead us to a better understanding of love, truth, and life. I try to see that someone’s challenges may be someone else’s purpose, to bring love and to ease pain. Life gives us the chance to be our best selves. It gives us the chance to participate and to make a difference. It gives us the chance to realize that we have reason to be glad.
Henry Jackson Van Dyke was an American author, educator, and clergyman. He spent much of his life at Princeton University, both as a student and as a professor. I feel, when I read his words, that Van Dyke is still teaching me today. I will leave you with one more quote, one that reminds me to live life in the moment:
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love — time is eternity”.
Be glad of life, and live each moment with love!