To Life! (A Gaian Toast)

How is it that I’ve heard “L’Chaim” dozens of times—at least ten just from rewatching Soylent Green over the years—and never knew what it meant, nor bothered to look it up? But I was watching a documentary a while back and the narrator actually explained that the toast meant: “To life.” And it clicked. This needs to be our Gaian toast!

“L’Chaim!” Note the feast of the future (the far off year of 2022, from a 1973 perspective). Thorn and Saul celebrate over a rare find: lettuce, whisky, an apple, and meat, real meat. (Image from Soylent Green)

Earlier this year we talked about Dan Fiscus’ essay on Gaian sciences, or science in the service of life. And it is life that sustains Gaia—and Gaia that sustains life—in an impossibly complex Gordian knot kind of way. So why wouldn’t we simply celebrate the complexity, the beauty, the awesomeness of life?

Our toast should not be:

  • Health or to your health: Salud; Santé; Sláinte, За здоровье (zah zdah-ROHV-yuh); or υγεία (ygeía).
  • Not: Good Luck: Fe sahetek
  • Not: Keep Peace (Kippis in Finnish)1
  • Not: the meaningless “Cheers,” “Próst,” or “Skål,”2
  • And absolutely not: Bottoms Up; Kanpai; or Gānbēi (which literally mean dry cup in Japanese or Chinese).

What’s It Mean?

The beauty of “To Life” is that it incorporates many of these sentiments. Certainly health: to a long and healthy life at the individual level. Though “To Life” also (subtly) recognizes that death is the other side of the coin. That without death there would be no life.

It means cheers more subtly as well. “To the great blessings that life offers.”

It certainly means good luck—for if we weren’t on a lucky planet—not too far and not too close to the sun, we wouldn’t be here to make this toast. And it means keep peace as well (for if we don’t, well, goodbye health, luck, and life, as we see in war-torn countries of the world).

Most importantly, it reminds us that without life—without a living planet—we’d have nothing.

The one toast it doesn’t incorporate is “drink all your drink now.” And we wouldn’t want that anyway. Excess is not very Gaian! And if you’re going to drink a lot at a (truly) special occasion—which is understandable—do you really need someone accelerating the pace of drinking, crying out “Bottoms up”?

To life! (Image from Mylene2401 via Pixabay)

The Roots of the Expression

L’Chaim is the Hebrew equivalent of “To life” though if Wikipedia is right, it stems from these three roots:

  • To connect wine to the tree of life rather than the tree of knowledge, which led to humanity’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden;3
  • To encourage those who want to fight to drink (and remember the value of life) thus preventing bloodshed—though I’m dubious that would work!
  • To comfort those who are mourning (thus creating a practice of toasting in sad times).

Now I have no idea if all that is true, though Wikipedia refers to some historical and scriptural sources, which other articles seemed to corroborate. But the bigger point is that these are very different than the Gaian reasons for celebrating, “To Life.” Drinking in times of sadness or to distract from violence sound like very bad ideas, as does reinforcing a myth that we are somehow separate or expelled from creation/nature/Gaia. But the toast is a simple and beautiful one, and is shared by other cultures as well.

The Bosnian toast appears to be “To life” (Živjeli) as well. And my own heritage, Armenian, has “To your life” (կենաձդ or Genatzt) but of course, that’s not broad enough, and is certainly encompassed by the bigger “To Life.”

Like a toast, this reflection is short and sweet. Not much more needs to be said. But if you ask me to give a toast, or perhaps on the next turn of the wheel when I raise a glass, I’ll simply exclaim “To Life!” and behind those two words will be a complex set of best wishes to you and to all those who make up Gaia.

To life!

Imagine if we were to design society to celebrate life in every way—from the vineyard to the wine to the celebration in which we drink it. (Image from Tama66 via Pixabay)


1) Or “To honor,” as the Turkish ‘cheers’ has roots of (Şerefe), and might spark the opposite of peace if taken too far.

2) Skål also refers etymologically to the drinking bowl. For more on toasts in different languages, visit here.

3) Possibly this was shortened from “Wine and life to the mouths of the rabbis.”  

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3 Responses

  1. Bart+Everson

    I have to admit I’ve been partial to skål over the years but you’ve convinced me. The next time I raise a glass, it will be “to life!”

    And “to all of life” might also be a good toast, implying an expansive embrace of biodiversity as well as the great variations within our own lives.

    • Erik Assadourian

      To all of life is good. To life and Gaia, as another suggested. I was aiming for as simple as possible, but I think any variation will do the trick! To all of life even goes beyond our planet… To all of life also captures the good times and the bad–harder to toast, but essential to remember that things won’t always be rosy….

  2. Bart Everson

    We used this toast in the printed memorial service program for a departed friend this past weekend. It fit well.

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