Let us beware that saying death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
My friend Mark wrote a post back in 2015 dealing with this topic that I greatly enjoyed. It was something that had been on my mind for a while, had come up in our circle, and I had actually been working on a draft of a post about it at the time he released it. Putting it out formally, and following his suggestion on filling out a graph turned this from something that maybe I thought about sometimes or had feelings about into something I was facing every day, and its had a profound impact on me.
I’m going to get a little deep here. I’m not writing for an audience, I’m writing for myself, and I intend to drag out some of my personal thoughts and philosophy out into the daylight stark naked and laid bare.
The first part of that is Remember. As in think about, comprehend, meditate upon. It was always easy for me to say yeah, I know I’m going to die one day but then go about my daily life caught up in the trivialities of existence. The minutia of the day.
Not that the little things aren’t important, they most assuredly are. Go to work, pay bills, sit in traffic. I mean I’m not about to walk off into the woods and turn into a flash of light because time is a flat circle and I’ve transcended earthy existence. The cable bill still needs paid and I’ve heard it said if its not practical its not spiritual. I’m all about being practical.
But I need to remember. I need to remind myself, daily, that I’m mortal. I only have so much time left, and no guarantee on how much. I truly have only this moment, and now its gone. If I make that a part of me then I start to hold a perspective on life that, to me is beautiful.
Knowing that I’m mortal and that the thread can be cut at any time, is it worth my time to put up with people who’s company I don’t enjoy? Should I argue over a parking space? Life could end tomorrow. Will it have been a good use of that most limited of resource (time) to get frustrated in traffic? Or better still, should I avoid the chance of having my mind changed or being exposed to opposing opinions? I’d rather not meet death having never given myself the chance to hold a different viewpoint.
Filling out this graph every week, and seeing it every day keeps it on my mind. It makes me face it constantly and think about whats important to me.
I remember post 9/11 watching an interview with a woman who’s husband was murdered that day. She spoke about how it was a normal morning, routine stuff. He left for work like every other day. Then he was gone. It was heartbreaking to me. Every morning when I leave for work I kiss my wife and tell her I love her. She’s still sleeping, it usually wakes her, it probably used to annoy her more the first few years but I suspect she’s gotten used to it by now. I’m not going to miss the opportunity to tell her I love her, to kiss her, as if it might be the last time.
Life is brief, precious, and rare. I don’t want to take any day for granted. I remember, I meditate on, I face the fact that I must die, and its beautiful. I won’t squander it.
I think of also the dead in my life, and how they continue to touch me. My grandmother, who gave me a safe place to be a child during a rough childhood, who let me play and cooked me food, and stayed up late with me giving me coffee too young and watching Johnny Carson while telling my grandfather Mike to shoo off and leave the boy alone. I love her. I love what she did for me and how she affected my life. I remember her, and I remember cooking with my son and telling him about Stella, and about how she would always put a pinch of sugar in the sauce to add love.
I think of my dear friend Frank. A man who spent time in the penitentiary, who had a child that wouldn’t speak with him ever again, who grew up gay in a time when that was formally considered a mental disorder. A man who turned his life from one of destruction into a thing of love and giving. He gave me so much, he guided me, he taught me, and he was the mentor who gave me tough love and stark truth when I most needed it. He helped bring me through my young adult life and become the man I am today. And while he is physically gone from this earth he continues to influence and guide me to this day.
I shed some tears for them writing this, but its not with sadness that I remember them. It is with great joy knowing that they loved me, and knowing how proud they would be of me today. When I contemplate my own death, this is what I want to leave behind.
And this is how I come to face that boogeyman, that inevitable end, the great unknown. Not with fear or pain, not in denial, or with trepidation. But with acceptance and appreciation for what I have now, today. With a commitment to be the best version of myself I can be. To not carry around pain and hatred or drag myself down with the weight of a heavy soul. I tell my friends I love them, I give from the heart. Not because some old book tells me to, or some guy claims to tell me the true path. No, because I live my life by what I know is right by me.
This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man/ Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!