Following grave news about a woman with an intractable disease who apparently requested doctors to euthanize her, and the suspected suicide of a famous actor, I've heard many of my patients say things like, "It's gotten me thinking about the meaning of being alive." Some said, "I can't work due to my illness, or be helpful to society. Does a life like mine actually have any value?"
I first listen to these people carefully, and chime in with phrases like, "I see that you're tackling your own life earnestly."
Times like these always remind me of something I've read: "GeGeGe no Nyobo," a collection of essays written by Nunoe Mura, the wife of late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki. As a TV drama series based on this book was also a smash hit, I assume there are many people who have heard of it.
What I recall when speaking with patients is not the content of the book, but rather Mizuki's words inscribed on the paper band wrapped around the bottom of the book cover. They were:
"My wife is the kind of person who'd say, 'I live life because I was born into this world.' I think that this in itself is an amazing thing."
Since there is no further explanation, I do not know the exact meaning of these words. I believe it might be that he was praising his wife's broad-mindedness and that fixating on details was not in her nature, especially compared to him.
Even so, "I live life because I was born into this world," is an intense statement. Just going about your daily life, doing what's in front of you to the best of your ability, without giving much thought to questions like, "Why was I born into the world?" or "What kind of value does my life have?" In other words, cherishing the enjoyment that each day brings without being too worried about what's ahead. Such unswerving earnestness and the part of her character that doesn't brood over things comes out strong in "GeGeGe no Nyobo." And it seems likely to me that this is what drew sympathy from many viewers of the drama series.
Of course, feeling the desire to be helpful to others and lead a meaningful life so long as your heart is beating is important. Dreams and goals also arise from this outlook.
However, life does not always go as planned. Accidents happen along the way. When you run into one, why not try telling yourself, "I live because I was born, and that's OK"? In fact, I myself sometimes utter these words, like an incantation.
Do your best most of the time. But sometimes, tell yourself, "I'm already doing enough," and stop worrying too much. Why not lead this sort of life, and relax?
(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)