Between the Rows: #YOLO

You only live once? I don’t think so.

Published online: Mar 28, 2019 Articles, Between the Rows
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This column appears in the April 2019 issue of Potato Grower.

You’ve seen it on T-shirts and backpacks and YouTube videos of drunk college kids screaming down a homemade ski jump and into a way-too-shallow pond:

#YOLO

If you’re like me—a so-called millennial by birth date but a doddering old fool in matters of social media savvy—you’ve spent at least a second or two wondering what it means. Well, allow me to hit you with a newfound piece of knowledge: YOLO is apparently an abbreviation for you only live once, and its most common use is as justification to either do something idiotic or postpone growing up.

I heard recently of a young couple—with a marriage, jobs, mortgage, kids, the whole bit—experiencing some frustration with a family member. The wife’s younger brother—27 years old, jobless, girlfriend-less, just changed his undergrad major for the seventh time—was staying the summer in their basement. When they had extended the invitation, the couple hadn’t anticipated Little Brother literally spending the entire summer in said basement. Yet there he remained, week after week, playing video games all night, emerging from his dank chambers for a noontime breakfast of Cap’n Crunch, Cheetos and Mountain Dew, then descending once again.

Finally, his big sister had had enough and staged an intervention. Upon hearing her grievances, the brother replied, “Sis, I’m just trying to live it up while I can.”

Well, she erupted. “This is what you call living it up!?!” she spluttered. “You haven’t showered or seen the sun or talked to a real person in a week! If this is living it up, you’d better get used to it, because there isn’t an employer or a girl in this world who would ever want whatever you call this!”

I don’t how this story ended, but I’m going to choose to believe Little Brother got out of the basement, finally finished that degree, got a good job, met a nice girl, and became a productive member of society. Either way, the tale is illustrative of the whole YOLO attitude. Whether it’s manifested in the form of extreme sloth or reckless abandon, it’s a philosophy based on the twin pillars of selfishness and ignorance of consequences.

Last week, my wife showed me a comic strip that actually was quite profound. In it, one character says to his buddy, “We only live once.” The friend responds with, “No, we only die once. We live every single day.”

We sure do. We live in soil samples and crop rotations and fungicide schedules. We live in PTO and church and irrigation district meetings. We live in sweat-stained co-op ballcaps and rubber boots and suits we could have sworn fit better the last time we went to a wedding.

Real life is when your fifth-grader comes home with tear-stained cheeks because her best friend just informed her that she doesn’t have the proper clearance to sit at the cool kids' lunch table. Five years later, it’s in your barely-veiled smile of pride when that same daughter gets kicked out of her JV basketball game for “inadvertently” throwing an elbow into the jaw of an opponent who just leveled that same best friend with a cheap foul.

Every day, we live in dust-coated F-250s turned into offices. We live in Bon Jovi and Johnny Cash and Rihanna and Jason Aldean songs. We live through droughts and floods, through bull markets and bear, through grandchildren’s births and grandparents’ funerals.    

There is, undeniably, life abundant in drag racing and cliff diving and grabbing a live rattlesnake by the tail. What self-respecting farm kid hasn’t Spidermanned his way up and down a haystack or tried to jump the four-wheeler over the ditch? Every once in a while, life needs to be spiced up with a little bit of crazy.

But in more frequent doses, life—real life—comes at us in barbed-wire-torn jeans and grinding gears; in truckfuls of fresh-dug spuds and slobbery, fresh-from-a-skunk-fight mutts; in minivan road trips and family dinners.

The next time you feel a mid-life crisis coming on, hold off on that decision to sell the whole place for half what it’s worth or to invest in the dirt racetrack at the edge of town. Before you do anything rash, go surf in Fiji or ski in the Swiss Alps or fly to Kansas City just to get some decent barbecue. Or just head down to the river with your rod and reel. After all, if you’ve only got one life to live, you might as well make it a good one.