Sorry, but this train terminates at Grand Central Station. You’re not going any further than that. This is terrible news, I know, and something nobody really likes to think about.
I think this is partly because different cultures deal with death in different ways. The Western way is mostly to hope it’s not going to happen, it seems, and let it sneak up on us at the last minute, as if we weren’t expecting it. We try to downplay it, as if it wasn’t important, and we are silly to be affected by the death of someone we love.
Not thinking about it lets us get on with things, I guess, without being continually overwhelmed by the idea – but it doesn’t really help us to deliberately live our lives the way we intend to.
Other cultures are very much more direct about death. They actively engage in contemplation of the fact that yes, we are all going to die, and yes, it does mean something. This feels uncomfortable to those of us who aren’t used to that depth of raw emotion. I think it’s actually very healthy to think about this though. Because it’s when we realise the temporariness of things that we start to understand what they really mean to us.
For example, when my girls were newborn babies, I remember thinking that they would be able to sleep on my chest (which I loved) for months and months – but after about 8 weeks it basically never happened again. This meant that the second time around I made sure I paid attention better when it did, because I knew it would be gone before I knew it otherwise.
Somehow, knowing something’s temporary gives it an extra level of beauty, a sort of excitement mixed with sadness – a deeper respect for its value and meaning. So it is with your life. Think about what’s important to you, and the things you think you’ll probably do sometime in your life.
Now, what would you do if they gave you a month to live?
Well? What do you think? Wouldn’t you go do the most important things to you with the most important people in your life? Isn’t it interesting that we aren’t already deciding to do that right now? The illusion we have is that there’s plenty of time. But unless you decide right now to go after the things you say you value most, they will keep on living in ‘someday’.
Life is shorter than we realise. And we pass the time, and keep on passing the time, like sand through our fingers, until we suddenly wake up and see what we are doing, at which point we’ll try to claw back everything we let slip away when we were young. I’m not the first or last person to say that, I know. And I’m only understanding it now myself.
Your life is beautiful, and full of possibilities and pain and joy and friends and loneliness. And it’s yours. But only for a time.