Last year my mum died, this year it was my mother-in-law’s turn. Both elderly and although sad it was timely for them to leave. And I bought a new coat, the first one for fifteen years, thinking “this might be the last coat I will ever need. Maybe I will manage a couple more decades – but maybe not.”
Oh dear, you are thinking, what a depressing subject! Move on. But it isn’t and I won’t – because the fact of our mortality is critical to how we live – what we do NOW, how we spend each minute of every day, how we think, how we relate to each other and how we find meaning.
Dr Antony Kidman was in the news recently because he died suddenly of a heart attack and also happened to be the father of an iconic Australian actor. Although the newspapers were full of the sad faces of his famous family what was clear from all the coverage is that he lived a meaningful, purposeful and worthwhile life.
I saw a cartoon recently of a man rushing headlong towards a bag labelled ‘stuff’ which was attached to a stick just in front of his careering body – until he tripped up and fell into a grave – with the bag flying past over the headstone. A graphic illustration that you can’t take it with you! And even if he had caught this particular bag – it would never have been enough because these days we are sold a story of our lives – and it is an economic one. It is all about acquisition and life-style and very little about living authentically well. Most of our politicians have bought into this story and the news is full of the greed that supports it. Though the word ‘greed’ is rarely mentioned – the language is of profit margins, investments and financial planning. But how many rooms in how many houses can you live in at any one time? How many expensive suits can you wear? Does the richest woman in the world really need another billion? How will it make her life authentically richer? Do other people look up to you because you are wearing designer labels or expensive jewellery or drive a flash car? The ads often intimate that this is what we should be aiming for – the envy of our peers. But if other people judge me by what I can show off, isn’t that a bit sad? Wouldn’t you rather be valued for who you are and what you do and the positive difference you make – however small that difference might be? And wouldn’t you have a more satisfying, fulfilling existence?
I read an article recently about drugs that will enable us to live much, much longer – maybe as much as a thousand years. Will that give us the time to get all the stuff we want – or will it help us think about the legacy we eventually leave?
As we currently do not have the luxury of spending centuries thinking about it, how about checking in now with what you will leave behind – because this will determine how you travel through the days. Life is short – but also full of magic and miracles – the ability to just be here, for most of us to be able to walk around, see beauty in our natural world, hear incredible music, hug someone we love. When others can’t do this because they live in fear, poverty or degradation it diminishes all of us. Spending some time – and even some of the riches we have been blessed with – doing something / anything to lift up the lives of others is surely more worthwhile than another shopping trip? Or even playing with your kids instead of doing another day’s overtime.
Wear your death on your shoulder – know you haven’t got long, get things in proportion and perspective and whatever you do with these valuable days, hours and minutes don’t waste them in things that in the end just don’t matter. If you are reading this you probably know this already, but if not – don’t wait until you are given months to live, do it now.