By Nick Dilonardo
Before Drake fatefully immortalized it, forcing us to hear it uttered by countless bros in bars, “You Only Live Once” was a song by the Strokes.
These days, it’s the “Carpe Diem” for a generation looking to justify driving home drunk or skipping out on studying to party on a Tuesday night, because, well, you only live…
There was a time in my life following the death of the woman who raised me when I could justify just about anything with the words “Carpe Diem.” I used it the same way Drake uses his cliché. You want to do something that will leave you a bit groggy in the morning even though you have an early class? Want to go to an Indian casino on a school night? Cute girl wants to go to LA? Skip class, forget the homework and have fun: you only live once.
It’s easy to descend into pure pleasure seeking hedonism when you’ve got a pain to dull. At least it was for me. I didn’t care what was right, wrong – I was indifferent. As I saw it from across a hospital bed, death, someday, is coming for me. Should I go to bed now? Should I have just one more drink? With YOLO or Carpe Diem, the answer was always simple.
Listen to the radio these days, and it’s everywhere. We’re young, we’re wild, and we are free – so let’s party like it’s never going to end, like, we’ll die young, like, we’ll die tonight, even.
But when you wake up tomorrow, your homework isn’t done. Three months of this madness later – six months, now nine – and it’s impossible to maintain. That’s what they never mention about “live everyday like it’s your last.” Every day except one isn’t actually your last. If I was living today like it really was my last, I would probably overdose on Ben and Jerry’s and bacon.
For me, reading Friedrich Nietzsche and a particular quote from a film helped frame the fancies of my desire against the context of the moment when making these decisions. In other words, I found my own “What would Jesus do?”
“The right thing and the hard thing are nine times out of ten the same thing,” Michael Caine says to his son Nicolas Cage in the film “The Weather Man,” and I tend to agree.
A life of shallow pleasure seeking is the difference between a vacation to the Atlantis resort in the Caribbean and going to the Mayan ruins or the Coliseum. One may be simpler, easier, more comfortable and plum – but the road less traveled, the steeper one, the one more difficult upon which to tread – isn’t this the obviously more rewarding choice? Doesn’t that which does not kill you make you stronger, as Nietzsche would note?
After my grandfather died in highschool, I told my football coach that I had an epiphany. I told him in light of his death, I’d begun to do some thinking. I decided life was too short to keep on doing something that made me so unhappy, like playing football (or at least practicing it). Between continuing to play, and getting up the courage to quit instead of slogging through another practice with lackluster enthusiasm, it hit me that quitting was the harder thing to do. It helped frame my decision, enabling me to reach one, and to make it. This is how I see morality: it’s a guide to action.
That’s the problem with YOLO or even Carpe Diem. They lead you to make the same decision over and over: one more drink, one more hour, one more time for old time’s sake. I am a hypocrite if I sit here and wage words against indulging in copious consumption. But there is a time and a place, and there is something to be said for not having to justify it with a stupid catchphrase in order to give your night some semblance of meaning; especially when that meaning comes by virtue of Drake.