Lust for Life

A House Painter and the Importance of Passionate Living

Could it be that “lust” is one of the good seven deadly sins? Possibly the only one that is?

I love the word lust because the word brims with life. Now, when I talk about lust I’m not talking about sexual craving of another’s body, I’m taking about passion . Not that carnal craving is at all that bad. It’s that craving, after all, that brought each one of us into this world. But I opt for the
definition of lust:…”a passionate or overmastering desire or craving.”

Pair lust with the word life and you get? Lust for life. That phrase carries a cache in today’s pop culture. Car companies and cruise ship lines agree, as evidenced by their use of Iggy Pop’s

as soundtrack material to hawk their wares. True, the song is catchy, but I believe it’s the title that grabs the imagination.

Know what I want in my life? People who feel lust, people who don’t shy away from passion. Sadly, I don’t come across them that often. There used to be a house painter in my neighborhood who sported a shocking mane of spiked platinum blonde hair, and a brassy swagger. It seemed one summer he painted nearly every building in town.

The sight of this man on a ladder or with a cigarette dangling from his mouth was cause for gossip and curiosity. Why? Because he had a lust for life. Sadly, no one, including me, knew his name. So he was nicknamed “Lust for Life.” I used to marvel at the gusto this man had while painting houses eight hours a day, sometimes in bad weather. And never a frown over Lust for Life’s face.

One day, as I was manning a barbecue grill at a neighborhood gathering, Lust for Life walked up to me in between painting jobs. I offered him a hot dog. He declined. He just wanted a chat. And he was better spoken and more polite than most of the faculty that live in the small insular college town I live in. I must confess I envied Lust for Life. In comparison I felt equivocal and lifeless.

Three months later I saw Lust for Life again. His hair
had lost it’s intense platinum sheen, and he was walking with a limp. The cigarette was still dangling from his lips, but the swagger was gone. It was like seeing a friend after a long absence and realizing he was dying. All I wanted to do was ask him what had happened. But I had neither the craving nor the passion to risk it. I like to think that he would have asked me.

I never saw Lust for Life again after that, but he remains my standard for living a passionate life. More importantly, he taught me that passion is never assured. So how could I think of lust as a sin when its absence leaves us with something dark and lifeless?