I once had a roommate who was followed by death. She was a bit older then I was at the time, I in my mid-twenties, she in her mid-fifties. Susan was an interesting woman that went on dates almost every night of the week, travelled extensively, and had a beautiful condo in Chicago. She didn’t need a roommate, she just wanted company and someone to take care of her cat when she was out of town. She had fur coats, jewelry, and amazing stories…and I, paying very little for rent, got to share space with this living-out-loud woman in divine style. Susan really knew how to live and she explained to me…late at night while telling me her stories…that her rich life was directly correlated with all the loss she had experienced.
Susan’s chronicles were so poignant that I absorbed her life lessons without having to experience them myself. Bottom line…she had endured an incredible amount of death in her life and as a result she vowed to never do anything she didn’t want to be doing in her last moment on earth. For example, if we were about to do something fun…but she found out there was someone coming with she didn’t like, she might say, “I can’t accept dying with that person. I have to decline.” In other words, if that night, while driving we died in an accident, she didn’t want it to be with that particular person. She’d take a pass. This might seem like an eccentricity…and maybe it is…but she was so consistent, that it made a distinct impression on me. And even now, years since we’ve lost touch, I really don’t go a week without thinking about my life in terms of impermanence. Have you ever thought about this as you go through your day? Are you willing to experiment and report back your findings?
I’ve never found reflecting on death as morbid, although I’m sure some might. I simply consider the unpredictability of our future an easy tool for keeping in the present moment. It gives true perspective. And it helps with the letting go of small, petty, ego concerns. In reality, we don’t know what’s around the corner, there are no guarantees, and this-now-moment is the only the thing we really have.
We’ve all heard the stories of near death experiences and people who turn their lives around, suddenly realizing what’s most important to them. Then there are the books like Tuesdays With Maury or The Last Lecture where wisdom is given from those who are dying. Apparently death is a force that helps people let go of all the day-to-day petty crap that people tend to get caught up in. In the experience of dying (which we will all go through at some point) we are able to separate the wheat from the chaff; subtract what is worthwhile from what is useless. A fog clears and we are finally able to see. And what do people report? That money, possessions, and pursuits that feed our egos, are no longer fulfilling. That arguments and resentments no longer hold any temptation. Instead, connecting with others, family, being true to oneself, a sense of service, observing the simple beauty in life, spirituality, basically things that provide intrinsic value, hold the most reward. Well, why do we have to wait until we’re dying? Why do we continue to pretend that we have forever to get our priorities straight? Instead….since there’s no better time than the present…let’s awaken to life now.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. –Mary Oliver