Are we living or merely surviving?

Iyanla Vanzant got me to thinking: What is living and what is surviving?


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By Arlene Jones


I was watching Iyanla Vanzant's show Fix My Life the other day. The show is only available on cable, but it needs to be on regular television as therapy for the entire black community.

That particular episode had Iyanla called in to save the marriage of Nefferteria "Neffe" Pugh and her husband, Shelby "Soullow" Lowery. Nefferteria, for those who don't know, is the sister of singer Keyshia Coles and daughter of the infamous Frankie.

At one point during the show, Iyanla called Neffe a "nasty, vile guttersnipe from the hood." It was fascinating to watch a woman (Neffe) so utterly clueless to reality that she doesn't "get it" even when it is plain as day to others. I know we have hundreds of Neffes running around all over the Chicagoland area who need a chill/reality pill to bring them back to this world from the fantasy world in which they exist.

Neffe represents the typical. But it was Iyanla's words about Shelby that had me stop and give deep pause. Shelby had suffered a heart attack a short time ago. Forty-three years old is very young for an otherwise healthy individual to have their heart try and kill them. The more Iyanla went on about Shelby's heart trying to kill him, the more vivid I saw life in general.

I had always thought of a heart attack as a condition that one suffered from as opposed to being a physical assault by an ailment. In addition, Iyanla had professed that Shelby didn't know how to live and was incapable of accepting others doing for him who weren't looking for something in return. Iyanla's statement got me thinking about what is living and how does it differ from survival?

 For most black folks, we have the survival routine down pat. We've been doing it since the first African slave came off the boat. We did it during the Jim Crow years following the Civil War. We continued doing it even after all the rights we got from the Civil Rights Era. Many of us do it to this day. But how many of us know the difference between living and survival? How many people can claim that they are genuinely alive?

Surviving to me means that someone is simply muddling through life, a rote behavior done without forethought or afterthought, a great coping mechanism to get one through each day, week or year. But surviving isn't living! As a group of people who have done so much survival, we now need to learn how to use that same mechanism to live. When we are truly living, we are thriving. We are flourishing. We are taking each and every day for what it is and enjoying the heck out of it. There is no need to lock ourselves behind closed doors or wrought iron fences. We cannot begin to enjoy life if we haven't learned how to live life.

Our rallying cry is simple. We are survivors who have begun to live our lives to the fullest. When asked how we are doing, the response is simple: Living and breathing!


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