When Have You Felt the Most Alive?

Ava Soleibe, Staff Writer

Tell me about a time when you felt most alive. This is the prompt I posed to IHS’ very own…prodding entirely invasively into the minds of students, because I am utterly taken by the feeling, what is the difference between living and being alive? What has the insurmountable power to shake us out of that numb encasing of daily distraction? In order to receive an unabashed response, I kept the interviews anonymous, and then watched as these individuals told captivating stories. An article examining this strange and specific need to feel purposeful by Theodora Goss said, “We search for life’s meaning as intellectual beings, who reflect on our own state. But before we are intellectual beings, we are sensual beings, who experience the world by sensing, feeling. And before we look for meaning, we look for the experience of being alive, of feeling the intensity and unpredictability of life.”  It is a profoundly human thing to be alive. What became evident in this interview process is that we will go to astonishing lengths in attempt at grasping this feeling.

One student told me a story that seemed more akin to a scene from a choose-your-own-adventure book than a family vacation. The senior says, “My family and I got permits to climb Half Dome, which is like this big thing in Yosemite. My parents said ‘you are doing this.’ There were huge, 2,000 foot drop offs on both sides. We were holding on going up, and before that, I would have said I am not scared of heights, but I feel like everyone is a little scared of heights. Climbing down, you are seeing the straight, 45-degree angle, and you are like, if I fall, I am dead. I felt very alive then. I remember looking off into the valley and I was like AH I cannot believe I am doing this! I think about it a lot. It is always in the back of my head.” Times of high risk and high reward relate to that race to invigoration. This is clear from the numerous stories I heard about climbing. Climbing is a naturally occurring metaphor for feeling alive: pursuing a peak and dealing with all of the emotions along the way. Another student, a sophomore, says, “I remember climbing all the way up this really tall mountain, like the steepest trail you can imagine, going all the way to the top, and looking out. It is in the mountains somewhere at some fire lookout. Looking out: beautiful mountains all around, 360 degrees, very pretty. I like this moment because I am scared of heights, and usually I would never want to do that, until I saw the view.” Yet another sophomore student shares a story of climbing and heightened serotonin: “Once, me and my friends were hanging out and driving around Bellevue and doing whatever. We went and we found this train track and followed it, and we found this building and construction area, and then an entrance. We climbed to the top of this building on this janky fire escape ladder that was bolted on by rusty bolts and climbed to the top of it. There was this pretty view of Bellevue, and it was a really fun night. That’s my favorite memory. It was so random, fun, spontaneous. It was the vibe. I was with people I loved.”

Fear is a driving force of living. The irony of this stares us down, beckoning us to challenge it. Theodora Goss continues, “We hate to fall, to make mistakes. And yet, so many of us will long for something to take us out of ordinary safety.” There is nothing so startling than the realization of your own fragility. That is when life seems extraordinary. A junior student shares, “We went to wild waves a couple of years ago, and there is this ride, I think it is the corkscrew. I was quite a lot younger; I was 10. I was not a big fan of rollercoasters then; they were not my go-to. Anyway, I am on a rollercoaster. That is an example of when I felt most alive because when you are on a rollercoaster, you are just a little person, strapped into a whole, like, machine, next to somebody else, and it is scary, and you feel how fragile you are, and you are up so high, and you are going fast. It is scary but it is so exciting, and you see everything, and you are so in the moment because you are so excited to be there.” Grand events such as roller coasters are excellent for demolishing the desert that is a life unlived, but it is equally as important to implement these ideals into the day-to-day. One freshmen student remarks, “Trying new things makes me feel the most active and engaged. When you start doing the same things, over and over again, even if you enjoy them, it is not really the same as the first time that you do something.” Another freshmen IHS student says, “When I think of being alive, I think of doing something that would normally scare you, and maybe it is out of your comfort zone. Climbing up a ladder and jumping is definitely out of my comfort zone. So it was one night, at about 10:00 pm and I was with two very awesome people. We were in Montana, and we decided to go up to the chairlifts after dark, when they were all closed. We climbed up this giant hill up where the chairlifts were, and climbed up the ladders, and then jumped into the powder. And it was great. Best moment.”

What brings us back to the purpose of this great, confusing narrative is the joy of living. The happy occurrences that ease the sting of existence. The adrenaline-fueled adventures that seem impossible. Simple coexistence with nature and its forces. Random, perfect moments of chance. A senior athlete explains, “What qualifies as alive? The most adrenaline or the happiest? I would say the moment I felt most alive is between the second and third mile of a race. I end up running in no man’s land a lot, so you feel very alone with your thoughts. There is a lot of clarity I feel like. You are terrified of being passed, but your mind is very clear. It is a good feeling, it is one that I chase a lot. School is very chaotic, and there is so much to do, it is so overwhelming. Running takes a lot of preparation going in, but once you are racing it is fairly binary. You are not racing anyone else; you are racing your own mind. And that for me is the best feeling.” Fascinatingly, another student junior immediately thought of running when I posed my question to them: “The most alive I have ever felt was when I was running by myself, at night, and a large gust of wind came, and the tree’s leaves were falling down, and it was very serene and very cathartic. It was a time when I was struggling with finding myself, school, and enjoying my life. It was something so simple, just out in the forest, by myself, running. It just felt so nice.”

These stories are challenging and inspiring. We can get swept up in our routines and allow the hourglass to turn once again. We can succumb to the pressures of life that quell individuality. Or, we can choose to run with the wind, pushing the limits of our bodies and minds. We can go where others have not, even if it means a higher climb, and we can live by the truth of these stories.