This post is not an attempt to be bleak, or to put a damper on the day. Rather it is a sharing of thoughts that go through my mind on the subject of death, shared with the hope that someone else might take something from it.
The Tibetans have a saying, “we are one breath away from our next life.”
They don’t say this in order to put a dampener on life, but rather wake us up to life! Life does not exist apart from death, and with the time of our death unknown to us, the Tibetans are saying, “make the most of this precious time that you have by using your life meaningfully,” regardless of what your belief is in what comes next.
Alex Honnold, the first person to free climb El Capitan, a nearly 3,000ft granite wall in Yosemite National Park, put it in more stark terms in the documentary of his climb, Free Solo,
“Anybody could conceivably die on any given day, and we are all going to die eventually. Soloing just makes it far more immediate. You accept the fact that if anything goes wrong, you are going to die, and that’s that.”
I was lying on our living room floor one Sunday evening, a couple of weeks ago. I was tired after a full day. Relaxing jazz music was playing. As I lay there staring at the ceiling, the thought came to me of what if this was my last evening? How do I feel about that? I imagined life carrying on as usual despite my departure. There would be grieving and loss from families and friends - at least I assume that I would be missed! - but the world would carry on regardless. My death would just be another happening on this Earth…another death.
I lay there wondering if I had any regrets? Could I let go and leave my life behind? What would I miss as I saw my last breath coming? Would I feel as though I had led my life in a meaningful way? I didn’t feel morose as these thoughts went through my mind, rather it felt good, maybe even healthy to be reflecting in this way.
I can be very good at putting off things that I don’t feel like doing - from paying bills to gardening. It is not a habit that I am proud of, and it does not serve me. The activity needs to be done sooner or later, and so putting it off or pretending that it is not there does not help me. Whatever I am doing, it’s voice will be calling to me in the background of my life. So, I ask myself, why not make a plan and get to the job as soon as you can? I might feel uncomfortable or dislike what I have to do, but better to look at that now and address it than wait until the last moment, when it is also possibly too late. By delaying the action, the source of my discomfort just sits there and waits until the same circumstances arise again, triggering the same procrastination.
That luxury, next time, does not occur with death. There is only one chance. So much better to look at your relationship with it now, where your concerns are, and what you need to do to get them in order. Then your life can happen with you being comfortable, maybe not liking, but being comfortable with whenever death knocks on your door. No looking over your shoulder, hoping that nothing is going to happen. You have prepared yourself.
I don’t know how I will be at my death time, and I still have some items to get in order, but I find these reflections help me.