I have been attending more funerals these days. I attended the funeral for a friend’s mother last week, and this week I’ll attend the funeral of a former high school classmate.
Whenever I hear of someone’s passing, or attend a funeral, I experience sorrow and compassion. But immediately following these emotions, something happens to me.
If you could do me a favor, think for a moment about the last time you attended a funeral or learned of someone’s passing. After the sorrow, what comes up for you?
For me, I experience this sudden urgency about my own life. I reflect on the people in my life, the work I’m doing, how I’m spending my time, and so on. I start making promises and deals with myself. Examples include: I’m going to be more present in my children’s lives. I’m going to listen more to them and play more with them. I’m going to tell Jerry more often how much I truly love him. I’m going to spend more time with my parents and my other family members. I am going to thank all of those who have made a difference in my life. I am going to be a better friend. I’m going to tell people how much I like, love and appreciate them. I’m not going to take this day for granted. I’m going to do this thing, or that. And so on.
I’m inspired, and the deals are made.
But then soon after, the awareness and urgency wears off.
My mission at Epic Life is to help others live as if they’re dying — to make each day count, and to “take stock” frequently. Because, while it’s a cliche, it’s also a fact: we have just this one life. None of knows for certain we will have tomorrow. This bothers me because I love my life and if I live another 40 years it won’t be enough.
I’m not afraid to die. It’s just that I love living and have a lot of living still to do.
What if we could live more often in the awareness and urgency that I describe above? I think it would be an amazing gift to do so.
I recently read 30 Lessons For Living, by Karl Pillemer, a professor in human development and gerontology at Cornell University — and director of Cornell’s Legacy Project. One of the chapters I refer to often is about how to live a regret-free life. Pillemer’s advice, collected from more than 1,000 people who are over the age of 65, includes: 1) Always be honest; 2) Say Yes to opportunities; 3) Travel more; 4) Choose a mate with extreme care; and 5) Say it now.
I like #5, in particular, because I think it’s common for many of us to procrastinate about the things we really want, and need, to say.
Another inspirational source that I watch once a month is Ric Elias’ 6-minute Ted Talk about when his plane was going down. In the video, Elias shares what he learned when he thought he was about to die. It’s great stuff from someone who fortunately lived through the experience. May his words inspire the rest of us.
What are the promises you want to make, and honor?
About a month ago, our 5-year-old son, Fin, asked me: “When a man is old, is that his last age?”
His question was so profound I didn’t immediately know how to answer it.
Of course all of our lives are of different lengths. Unfortunately, I’ve lost friends and loved ones of all ages.
I love books. I read and read and read. Lately, my favorite author is Cheryl Strayed, author of one of my now-all-time favorite books, Wild. Strayed is a wonderful writer, and I feel a kinship to her when reading her words and experiences.
Recently, I finished (more like devoured!) her latest book, Tiny Beautiful Things. In a chapter called “The Obliterated Place,” a 58-year-old man writes to Strayed (“Sugar”) about the loss of his 22-year-old son, his only child, who was killed four years earlier by a drunk driver. He asks how to go on, and how to be human again.
In her response to the man, Strayed (“Sugar”) mentions a remark her own young son made that is, coincidentally, similar to the aforementioned question Fin asked me. (“We don’t know how many years we have for our lives…”)
Strayed, when she was just 22, lost her mother. She writes how deeply sorry she is for the man’s loss, and among other things, writes: “It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was forty-five years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be — my mother at eighty-nine, my mother at sixty-three, my mother at forty-six. Those things don’t exist. They never did.”
“Sugar” continues by encouraging the man to think: “My son’s life was twenty-two years long… There is no twenty-three.”
The words and sharing, both the man’s letter, and Strayed’s (Sugar’s) response, are poignant. Reading it broke me open, and has caused me to think, often, of Strayed’s wisdom reminding us that any thought we have about the length of our lives is an expectation, not a certainty.
So, to the point of this blog post… Imagine, for a moment, that your life has only one more year in it.
What changes would you make? Who would you choose to experience your time with? How would you be? What would you say?
Today is the birthday of my friend, Lori Barney, who died suddenly one day last October. Lori lived life to the fullest better than anyone I know. When I remember Lori, I remember that we each have only one life, and that it is a gift.
Remembering Lori motivates me to want to help others remember this fact, and to help them create a life they love.
I work with a life coach. Her name is Kate Roeske (who, by the way, rocks). This morning I had a call scheduled with her. Before placing the call, I noticed I was feeling nervous.
Why, you ask? Because my coach demands that I play big. Playing big is scary and uncomfortable.
And yet, that is what I pay her for — to demand that I play big.
My life is better than it’s ever been and yet I continue to work with a life coach. The reason is quite simple: without Kate in my corner pushing me to play big, and holding me accountable, I would not play big very often.
In other words, if I wanted to play small, I would not work with a life coach.