I've been thinking about death a lot these days. At 58, I'm more than half way to my grave, my end date is approaching. If all goes well, I have about 20 to 25 good years to go.
In Robert Greene's book The Laws of Human Behavior, he tells the story of two writers who had a premonition of an early death. Starting in their late teens and early 20's, they discovered writing and because of their premonition they began an intense focus on their craft. Their minds were sharpened and the moment was all that mattered, because it was going to end soon.
With this premonition of death, they had a vivid focus on their art and were able to be in the moment in all their human interactions. They worked hard to illustrate these relationships in their writing. They knew the end was coming, so the world was brighter and more vivid than those of us who believe we have endless time.
“The specter of death is what impels us toward our fellow humans and make us avid for love. Death and love are inextricably interconnected. The ultimate separation and disintegration represented by death drive us to unite and integrate ourselves with each other.” Robert Green
I waste too much time worrying about things that don't really matter, and things I can't control. If death is imminent, and it is for all of us, the question becomes, how do we live each day?
The closest I've come to death was Lori's cancer diagnosis. Ella would have been nine or ten. I remember one morning when Ella was getting ready for school. She was sitting on the bathroom counter, and Lori was "doing" her hair. It was a pleasant interaction, nothing extraordinary, just a mother and daughter getting ready for the day. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have noticed, but with the diagnosis of doom, this moment, their conversation about mean boys and favorite teachers, took on a special meaning. I remember thinking (praying?), "let's just make it to high-school graduation".
Lori is fine, she's considered healed and Ella is 18 and is starting college soon. We don't think much about cancer and death these days, but I miss one aspect of that time. Which is the importance of the moment. My relationships matter and my experiences matter.
At 58, I'm on the downward slope, but I have the advantage of experience and artistic skills to express my ideas. By dwelling imagining myself in the coffin, I'm better able to dismiss the things that don't matter, and focus on the things that bring me fulfillment, which are relationships and art.