A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Living Or Existing?

January 13th, 2002

Go north on Hayden and you’ll see the sign on your right, just past McKellips. Announcing your entrance into the city limits of Scottsdale, it reads,

Scottsdale – Welcome – “Most Livable City.”

The sign stands twelve inches away from a brown block wall marking the west edge of Green Acres Mortuary and Cemetery.

I laugh every time I drive by it. A Chamber of Commerce welcome to their most livable city and the first sight you see is a mortuary. The irony of “live-ability” is especially thick for me and anyone else who’s attempted to navigate the maze of bureaucracy in the Puzzle Palace known as Scottsdale City Hall. There’s a code number and a restriction ordinance for everything.

It must be difficult for Green Acres Mortuary and Cemetery to stay in business because in Scottsdale you’re not allowed to pass away without the proper permit. Even if you’ve been granted a Planetary Departure License, you’re not allowed to expire within 1,320 feet of any establishment not zoned for cessation of respiration, unless it’s a C-2 or C-3 business in which case you need to submit written agreement from the property owner that upon your demise you will not linger longer than 2 hours and not between the hours of 9 PM and 6 AM. And when you go, you’d best go gently into that good night because if you don’t you’ll be cited for disorderly dying. Removing all the red tape in Scottsdale sounds like a wonderful idea until you realize it’s the only thing holding the city together.

There’s humor in seeing a proclamation of livability set against a backdrop of tombstones. A sign of progress so close to the wall of finality. There’s a fine line between life and death. On one side of the block wall thousands of cars speed back and forth to jobs and homes and sales calls and Little League games. On the other side of the block wall, guys with Weed-Eaters trim Bermuda grass off inscribed granite grave markers; each one a dated proclamation that life does have an endpoint. Sooner or later, the cars on Hayden Road¬†make the turn into Green Acres or a cemetery like it. There’s a fine line between life and death.

There’s also a fine line between living and existing. Genuine living requires our involvement with the people and world around us. Existing requires only our presence. In that light, the grave markers at Green Acres exist. We can point to them and say, “There they are. They were here yesterday. They are here today. They will probably be here tomorrow.” They are present, but not involved. Some days, that’s an apt description of me. Present. Busy, even. But not involved.

It’s easy to confuse living with existing because we too often confuse activity with significance. We think we’re productive because we’re doing so much. Ask 10 people, “How are you doing?” and I bet 6 of them will say, “Busy.” Our daily routine can have us busier than a raccoon at a crawdad hole. But unless that activity involves us in the lives of others in a meaningful way, something more than checking items off a list, busy just gets us tired.

The grave markers at Green Acres exist and never move from their spot in the cemetery. We exist flying all over the place. If neither one of us genuinely interact with people in the process, the only difference between us and a tombstone is that they exist in one place and we exist in many.

Right or wrong, we’re stuck with a certain amount of busy. It’s the world we live in. Meetings and errand running and caring for families are what we day in and day out do. It’s a fine line between living and existing. Though we think we can’t possibly fit another responsibility into our schedules, it really doesn’t take much to stay on the living side of the line. Asking your co-worker how his daughter is adjusting to her first semester of college and thanking the grocery clerk for smiling and getting down on the floor so your kids can climb on you like a jungle gym all get us involved with people. Those aren’t grand gestures. They are common courtesies that, at the end of the day, people remember. When we make it a point to actively care about someone, we don’t exist. We live.

Tomorrow’s Monday. I’ll likely be on the phone again with someone inside the Scottsdale Puzzle Palace. I’ll do my best to inject some humor into my conversation with the city code-talkers. What are you going to do on Monday? How will you inject some meaning into your routine?

“What did I do today that set me apart from the people buried at Green Acres Cemetery?”

It’s not such a dumb question to ask.