YOLO – You Only Live Once.
Live life NOW.
Live one day at a time.
Live in the moment.
Live for today.
Live your best life NOW.
There are so many catch phrases, clichés and memes out there now about living life. Instagram and Facebook are flooded with them to the point that it’s become white noise. Whether it be a short scroll through social media or with a few keystrokes to search the Web, it’s fairly easy to find some positive, thought provoking, or just wholesome quotes about living life.
But I wonder what most of us do with these quotes and catch phrases?
A friend and fellow writer of mine, Gabriel Goyo, and I have been having some conversations on death lately. I’d dare say he probably contemplates or meditates on it more than I do, actually. But we see eye to eye on the topic at hand. I’m not going to share the details our conversation here, but I did want to bring something to the table that has been welling up in me lately. It’s about suffering: the suffering you go through; that suffering that others go through and making things better. I find it interesting that in older versions of the English language, to suffer meant to permit. Interesting, too, that so many things that we suffer through (present definition) are brought on by that which we permit.
But first, let me share a couple of quotes in order to set the stage for the rest of the thoughts I wish to share with you.
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
“Gabriel, why are you so obsessed with Death?
Well, because Death scares us. (I’m also obsessed with fear). And because Death scares us, we avoid Death. We avoid thinking and talking about it. We sometimes even fail to acknowledge it. Death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, every experience arbitrary, all values lose significance.
We should question our conceptual residual self-image and become more comfortable with the reality of our own death. We should not avoid the realization that we are all, eventually, going to die; but rather come to terms with it as best we can.
How? The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see ourselves as something bigger than us. Devote your time to actions beyond serving yourself. Simple, immediate, controllable goals, tolerant of the chaos around us.
I like reminding myself of my own death repeatedly —whether it be through meditation, reading philosophy, or writing about it—. It’s the only thing that has helped me hold this realization present in my mind in a peaceful way.
The understanding of my own ephemeral nature has made everything compelling and easier; dealing with my addictions, accepting responsibility for my own problems, suffering through my fears and uncertainties, accepting my failures and embracing rejections. All have been made lighter by the thought of my own death.
The more I peer into the darkness, the brighter life gets.
The world becomes a quieter place.”
I’ve talked about death before. Here, here and here. To put it as bluntly as only Chuck Palahniuk in his novel, Fight Club, can (yes, there was a book before the movie) “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” It was my friend Gabriel who helped me discover the term “Death Positivity”, a movement, or approach to understanding, accepting and embracing the shared fate we all have. The more I peer into this movement, the more I would say that I identify with it.
One may have their faith in a certain religion or set of beliefs; one may be relying on the “testimonies” of those who have had near death experiences; or one may just look at the cold, hard, observable facts about death to sum up their belief about what will happen to them. But, it’s all theory until you get in the ring and dance with Death yourself.
I don’t have all the answers. You don’t either. Do I expect to have the answers regarding Death? No. But I am looking for peace. Even though there is no certainty when it comes to the day or hour of my departure, I’d prefer to come to terms and make peace with this inevitability long before my time comes.
I love how my friend Gabriel put it, “Death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured.” I look at the beautiful faces of my children and I realize that one day, too, they will die. The timeline is uncertain, but the eventuality is there. Beneath those beautiful faces lay their future remains. It’s an odd thought that brings almost overwhelmingly strong and potent emotions as I contemplate their own mortality. I have just as much a chance of dying early as they do. They could bury me, or I could bury them.
In light of the certainty of Death, in light of how everyone I know, love and care for are going to walk through that door sooner or later, this light brings into clarity how much I want to see them live a life of meaning and fulfillment. To see them overcome adversity and challenge. To see them chalk up enough of the Good Times, enough Days in the Sun, that it dwarfs the Valley of the Shadow of Death and makes walking through Death’s door look like crossing a finish line. A Journey’s End; a returning Home. Through all of that, it is my sincerest desire that they find happiness and contentment.
The Light of Death also brings into crystal clarity how badly I want those things for myself! How much I want to gain meaning and fulfillment from what I do in any area of my life – vocation, personal, relational, spiritual. All of them. It brings into clarity certain thoughts that I’ve tried to express yet didn’t have the words for it.
Recently, I was speaking with a close friend about these things and we began to speak about regret. I don’t want to be on my death bed or in the final seconds of my life regretting things. I don’t want the thought of “I should’ve done ________.” Or, “I should’ve told ____ that I loved them.”
I don’t want my final words to echo David Cassidy’s, “So much wasted time…” And I don’t want those words and thoughts of regret to be uttered from anyone that I know, love and care for.
And no, besides normal mortality, I’m not aware of any terminal illness. This piece isn’t that or a some mid-life crisis.
This kind of thought process helps you look at the things in your life with a critical eye. You look at the false relationships you entertain for whatever reason or the job you are in and you begin to ask yourself, “Do I want to die here?”
That has been happening to me more and more. Taking a look at different things in my life and asking myself, “If I died now, would this be how I want my life to be?”.
Ever since my first job at 16, vacuuming and washing cars at a car wash in Boise, Idaho, I’ve been working with the public. Fast food, restaurants, sales, small and large lending and finance.There is a certain degree of cynical dark humor that comes with working with the public for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I excel at customer service, and I do love working with people. However, anyone who is being honest about working with the public can confirm that any given day is an interesting mix of treating people with the respect and dignity they deserve (since you’ve eaten shit so many times yourself) and also struggling to keep a certain tolerance level intact for the stupid, petty and downright dark and dishonest ways people act.
That said, contemplating death and knowing that everyone I come into contact is truly, as Dickens put it, “Fellow passengers to the grave.” helps me be more generous in my tolerance levels and even more compassionate.
“It’s Chaos. Be kind.” Patton Oswalt, quoting his deceased wife, Michelle McNamara.
If you haven’t watched Patton Oswalt’s newest special, “Annihilation” on Netflix. I highly encourage you to do so. About halfway through he recalls becoming a widower. It’s brutally honest, charming, heartfelt and unexpectedly funny. His wife was a writer that dealt with crime. She saw some of the worst of humanity and had a viewpoint that there is no order to it all, it was complete chaos. Her mantra to Patton was, “It’s Chaos. Be kind.” He recalls them arguing about life having meaning or not and he admits how she “won the argument in the worst possible way”. He goes on with some observations and reminds us all that out there in the world, it’s chaos… be kind.
I’m not perfect. Neither are you. I’m mortal. So are you.
I need compassion and understanding. So do you.
It’s not always easy. It’s not always hard, either. But why make life miserable for your fellow companions? You might be on a different boat than I but we are all on the same river, floating towards a similar end. It isn’t a free-for-all, there is room enough for all on this journey, so why try and wreck someone else’s boat?
Act. Or you’re full of shit.
All this thinking, then, should lead us to action, should it not?
I’ve found myself so full of shit. I’ve realized these things, I’ve written about these things and yet…no action.
There’s the rub.
So every day I remind myself, prod and poke myself. Shame myself, even. I will not die with regret. One step at a time, one purposeful action at a time. I’m acting more and more in congruence with the convictions that I am forming and holding in my life.
Meaning. Fulfillment. Contentment. Happiness.
I am my own personal Memento Mori.
**Hey there! First, I want to express my thanks to you for reading this post. If you find value in what I’m writing or you know someone who would, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share this post far and wide. Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat or even E-mail. If you’d like to share it, feel free! If you’d like, leave a comment or two, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks again!**