What is Life? (An Essay By A 16-Year-Old)

I wrote this essay in 1962 at the age of 16 when I was a junior in high school. It was published in the local newspaper. I have shared this essay with people I have met in every phase of my life. Since it is an evergreen message with a universal theme, I now share it with you. Keep in mind that I was only 16 with I penned it with my own hand.

As defined in most dictionaries, life is a period of existence, but to me life is not just that. It is a way of living and life is living itself. It is loyalty, love, hope, time, patience, courage, faith, strength, enjoyment, smiles, perseverance, happiness and all of the other beautiful things we often think about.

Some people might not know it, but the happiness of our lives depends on the quality of our thoughts. I do not exactly mean that a person who always keeps an idle mind is not living, but I do mean that he is only half living. Half living is merely a period of existence; not the way of fruitful living. In this brief essay, I will give my opinion of the way I believe a much happier life can be lived

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To begin with, the way of living deals with our thoughts. We are what we think we are. We are as old as we feel, as rich as our imagination, as strong as our faith, and as weak as our fears. It is these things that make up life for us; it is our mind that makes the world and our minds are exactly what we make them.

Many of us are are looking for the bright side of life, but there are still those who lead a dull, miserable life. These people are usually too weak to change to the bright side. They are too weak because they think only in terms of themselves. They always try to get what they can from life without adding anything to it. They treat life like a slot machine, putting in a little and always hoping to hit the jackpot.

Some of us are just here living day after day without any special purpose. That's really not the way to live. Living without a purpose is a wasteful way to spend our lives. This means that we are only occupying space and watching time slowly drift away from us.

Have you ever noticed a person who is concerned with the contribution he can make, how much he can give, and how much he can add to life? Usually that person is always wise, happy, and has more inner peace.

We have to help others to be happy. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Happiness is like a perfume; you cannot give it to others without getting a few drops on yourself."

Sometimes for us life holds nothing, but we just can't die. Even at our most miserable moments life still goes on. Life gives us chances to really prove our vallue, but if a person is too weak to take those chances, he is living in a dream world. Chances are he might not ever wake up and face reality.

We should start right now, this very moment to put the definitions of "life" together and make the most of it. Unlike the cat, we have only one life. Therefeore, we should realize that it is too precious to destroy or ruin.

Henry Van Dkye so aptly phrased this in a poem when he wrote:

Too short for those who wait;
Too swift for those who fear;
Too long for those who grieve;
Too slow for those who rejoice:
But for those who really live,
Life is not.

(Margaret Jackson, October 1962, Central High School, Sussex, VA; Published in the Sussex-Surry Dispatch)

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Comments 23 comments

Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

I have never seen a need for planning ahead or for thinking about tommorow or a future. Today is always right there staring me in the face and today is difficult enough to plan out and deal with, besides after I go to bed at night, what if i don't awaken into a new today?


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Dave, thanks for reading and responding.


MegaFox5 5 years ago

As I was reading this amazing, life filled story, something that was written caught my eye, "We are what we think we are. We are as old as we feel, as rich as our imagination, as strong as our faith, and as weak as our fears." I don't if it was you who said these words or if these words are a quote someone else said but no matter, I was astounded. I was blown out of the water because it's true and so deep with life. I really get into my writing and I use to find reading boring but this story gave me a reason to want to read. Actually it was the title that caught my eye. When I read that this short was in the newspaper, I thought, "This must be a good story then." Turns out, I'm right. Good work and I like to say I have some good stories too but probably not as good. Anyway, great work and I love it=]


Treasuresofheaven profile image

Treasuresofheaven 5 years ago from Michigan

Out of the mouth of babes.... It is wonderful that you kept this memoir of an essay. You were full of wisdom even as a youngster. Very deep. I enjoyed this!


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

MegaFox5 and Treasuresofheaven: Can you believe I was that deep at 16? Surely today I feel the same way, but I would write it a little differently. As I was typing it into HubPages, it took me back to the day I first wrote it. What great memories it brought back!

Thanks for reading and responding.


MegaFox5 5 years ago

You were 16? Wow! Shocker! It's my pleasure to read fine work=]


Betty Johansen profile image

Betty Johansen 5 years ago

Wow! At sweet sixteen, you were one smart cookie! I love your slot machine analogy. I'm afraid there are a lot of people like that - wanting to put in a couple of coins and get a jackpot in return. But, at 16, you were already wise enough to realize that a life of taking and grumbling is a poor excuse for a life while a life of purpose and contributing makes for a rich, rewarding time on Earth. Beautiful!


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Betty, yes I was 16 when I wrote that piece. I'm still writing about life and how to live it to the fullest... God's way.

Thanks for reading and responding.


carolapple profile image

carolapple 5 years ago from Suffolk Virginia

This essay is well-written and very wise, especially for a 16-year-year old. Looks like you were destined to be a writer from the very beginning! I will be showing this to my teenaged sons, both of whom trying to find their direction in life.


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Oh, Carolapple. Thanks for your kind words. I must say your teenaged sons might be smarter than I was at 16 growing up in a country town. I am sure they could write something much better. Thanks for reading and responding.


FaithDream profile image

FaithDream 5 years ago from (Midwest) USA

Aww, beautiful at sweet 16. Rev, when you have it, you got it, and you my dear have a real sense of style.

I like your writing and always such a great message.

It is nice you saved it and shared it with us. Thanks!


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

FaithDream, thanks for your kind comments. Yes, even though I wrote the article at 16, I have been sharing it through every phase of my life. It was written 50 years ago. It's definitely an "evergreen article."


Brenda Smith 5 years ago

You were definitely ahead of your years at 16.


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Yes, Brenda, who knew at 16 I would be doing the same things I'm doing at 65! God is so good in making sure His plans are fulfilled through His people. Thanks for reading and responding.


wandererh profile image

wandererh 5 years ago from Singapore

It takes a lot of life's experiences to write this essay. I'm wondering what you were thinking of. Shouldn't you be more interested in boys, and movies, and music, and all the other things that 16 year old girls are interested in?

Anyway, great essay. :)


revmjm profile image

revmjm 5 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

wandererh, believe it or not, at 16 I was interested in the same things I am interested in today . . . reading and WRITING! You mean I missed out on boys, movies and music? (LOL)


wandererh profile image

wandererh 5 years ago from Singapore

About movies and music, you probably didn't miss out much. About boys, I won't know since I wasn't interested in boys when I was 16 years old. :)


hj 3 years ago

hjkhjk


Jess 3 years ago

i love this essay, it's inspired me to write an essay on life and has also helped me out with other writing pieces.. it's like a guideline for all my writing.. it's amazing


CherylsArt profile image

CherylsArt 2 years ago from West Virginia

It's amazing how we can write such profound things in our younger years. I enjoyed reading your essay.


Manasvi 23 months ago

At the age of Sixteen you have gave the tonned definition of life..even i can't believe that a sixteen year old child can like that..

Your story is totally eye catching..Happiness of our lives is depend on of our thoughts..great line..


helloitsme 2 months ago

When i read this i thought in my little head..... You shouldn't let other people judge your looks, why because were all different. We don't all look the same, we don't all talk the same, we don't love or like the same things, Everyone has to disagree on something in life don't they, say you and your best friend you've had since you were 2 or 3 you think you know everything about each other until your friend just becomes someone you've known for a while cause in time they'll make new friend and leave you out then your so called friend might start judging ur looks your body and you not use to that because your use to her or he complementing your looks or how your hair looks but now you fell like she's a back stabbing cow and you just want to make her feel hurt and judge her about her looks and then and make her hurt insid even more then she did and you know that that snot fare and you know you dont want to her your best friend you just want to be best friends with her again..... then one day you see her getting judged because uses got pimples and she's got a bit more weight on you feel like you should just sit back and watch her get judged but then you realise she was your best friend so you go over and stick up for her they try to judge you as well but you just ignore them by now your best friend is in tears crying and crying and crying she feels so bad for bulling and judging you but she begs and begs and begs for your forgiveness you finally give in and and say i missed you so much i know you didn't mean those things you said and I'm sorry for making you feel down as well, don't worry well get through this together. And thats what i thought in my little head I'm 12 years of age and this just pooped into my head.


revmjm profile image

revmjm 2 months ago from Richmond, VA Author

Thanks for reading my essay that I wrote when I was 16. I am 71 years old now. Thanks also for writing your detailed comments.

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