I love the Wallace Stevens poem "Sunday Morning". Beyond the tang of oranges and vivid green parrots, I love the message. The earth is our Paradise. People waste their lives setting themselves up to get into heaven, and they're missing it. Yet it actually fits well: Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden when they gained the knowledge of their mortality; suddenly, life had a limit, and the world wasn't permanent. Think about it.
A lot of people I've known have died in this school year, leaving Paradise here for oblivion. Uncle Ned was plenty old enough at a whopping 92 years of age, and ready to go too, but the others were far too young. I never got to know Caitie Carnes like I wish I did. I have memories of her that date back to when I was in middle school, and I often passed her in the halls freshman year, never stopping to say hello. But her death at age 18, in her first week of college, has taught me to live for happiness.
It may have been a few months after she died, I'm not really sure. I was laying in bed, exhausted from a stressful, painful day, thinking about what happened to her. A thought I popped into my head, one that I couldn't quite quell: what if I die tonight? I wondered what all the struggling, all the hard work for the right grades in the right classes would mean if I were to pass away before the morning. Back then, my entire life was built around grades, achievement, and success. This thought particularly vexed me, because there was no simple lie I could tell myself to make it go away. I didn't help anyone that day, nor did I enjoy myself, and, assuming the existence of heaven, I don't think I'd have gotten in with my life thus far. Although I couldn't admit it, even in silent nighttime thought, a day spent like that was a day wasted.
Now I use that question as a guide for living. If I died overnight, I'd want to be satisfied with my last day; I don't want to wait for my Paradise, be it in heaven or on Earth. Just like people waste their lives trying to be perfect and virtuous enough for Heaven, lamenting over mistakes, I refuse to live mine with the mentality of "I'll be happy when...", because I want to be happy now.