I never really thought much about death…mow own mortality, until my Dad died a few years back. I’m one those lucky saps who reached middle age without really losing anyone super-close. My grandmother died a few years before, and she was one of my top 5 favorite people of all time, but it was also sort of expected. Sad but not shocking.
But my Dad was another story. He died at 59 years old. I received a call from the Cambodian Embassy at 11 PM, awakened from a deep sleep to hear that he’d died earlier that day. Shock Factor: Off the charts. When he went, it was like one big layer of a buffer from my own mortality had been removed. First the grandparents, then the parents…that leaves only us! There’s a certain amount of insulation from the cold horror of our own mortality that begins to thin out beginning with the passing of our grandparents. It gets real. I’m 12 years younger than my Dad when he died …. okay…what’s left to do here?
What makes these mortal realities worse is that my life is glorious, at least to me. I don’t want to die. I want to stay here and live the life I’m living now for at least another thousand years or so! I have a bright, talented, loving daughter, a world-class wife, a nice warm home. I couldn’t have made up a better life, despite my daily bitching about one thing or another … I really have no right or reason to complain about anything.
So I took a drive into that bad neighborhood known as “my head” and started thinking about my own mortality, the meaning of life. And, being a self proclaimed student of the metaphysical, I’ve come to some strange and uncomfortable conclusions.
My biggest conclusion about death is that It doesn’t really matter: Listen close, because it gets a little weird now. What is it that we really have, really possess in this life of ours? I don’t know how to bring you, the reader, to this step by step so I’m just going to dump it out all over, then clean it up as I go. All you really have is the sum total of your feeling and being in the present moment. Now some might shorten that and say, “all you have is the moment.” This is true, but I think it becomes a “cliché.” People say, “That’s right! live in the moment.” Not really knowing what the f*ck they’re talking about, just parroting back some Deepak or Dolly the Llama that makes them sound “spiritually hip.” (Being spiritually hip is quite vogue now, you know!)
So for an added touch of clarity, I’d expand it to “The sum total of your feeling and being in the present moment.” Why don’t I include memories? Well, I think because you can draw on memories, but like anything you possess–memories; material things; money; status; reputation–the end result that you have is a “feeling.” I include “feeling” in the equation because I’m convinced that it’s the ONLY end result that we are ever looking for. No matter what our goals, dreams, actions, re actions, etc. are, we’re aiming (consciously or not) for a feeling. And it’s not JUST happiness. Positive feelings are like ice cream, except there are far more than 31 flavors. There are so many nuances and grades and textures to happiness-type feelings. Even feelings we typically think of as negative have threads of beauty. Grief comes from love, melancholy comes from wistful memories. I think we miss the impact if we miss this point. This is ALL we’re looking for. In other words, all we really value is the “being.” The doing and the having are conduits. They are the road that gets us to the feeling. Unfortunately we get attached to these conduits and this attachment clouds our perception, often to the detriment of the happiness we’re looking for in the first place.
All this mind-bending metaphysical meandering aside (Sorry, I love alliteration; especially annoying asinine alliteration!), we are brought to a very unlikely, interesting, thought provoking, but somewhat scary conclusion: It really doesn’t matter when we die. I mean really. Whether we’re 19 or 91. All that we have anyway is how we feel right now, or HWFRN (Shorthand for “the sum total of our feeling and being in the present moment.”) HWFRN is it. It is our regrets, or lack thereof. Our memories. And think about our memories for a moment. (that’s a mind twister, isn’t it?) When you remember something, you don’t remember every moment of it, you just grab little chunks, and fill in the rest with the illusion of the passage of time….you think you remember that last thanksgiving with Grandma Nellie, but really you remember asking her a question, the extra moment she hugged you before leaving, the compliment she made about your child’s politeness, etc. Then you filled it in with other stuff …. how long did it take you to review the memory? 10-12 seconds? So really, what might this tell us? Or at least SUGGEST to us? I think it suggests that the amount of time we collect and create memories is less important than the type and variety of memories themselves. They are not as “cumulative” as we think. Time is not “cumulative.” I don’t think we’ve “lost out” on anything by having 72 years vs. 99 years UNLESS we are living in a suck hole during our final moment. Our final moment…so …all this brings me to a final, and I mean final conclusion on all this.
Could it be that all that truly matters is how things are in our final moment? By “how things are,” I mean the totality. That “in the moment” feeling of totality that everything is alright (or not) and that life is complete. I would think it might be like a warm blanket. Hundreds of different feelings are involved, but in the end the only thing that’s important is the feeling of the warmth on your skin. I think the loudest battle cry here is, “no regrets.” Did I say everything I needed to say? Did I DO everything I wanted to do, within reason? If I DIDNT do something, am I regretting it, or am I realizing it’s ok that my wife and I didn’t renew our vows while bungee jumping from Richard Branson’s ballon? At least I created the thought, the goal, the dream and had some good feeling over that. Who did I damage? Did I fix it, or at least do my best to fix it and then not do it again? That’s it. And I think it’s important that I live on purpose; do something I’m passionate about. When you’re thinking back on your life, you most likely won’t spend much time flipping through the pages of those nights you sat and watched game shows or the news. (Remember that time Pat Sajak tripped over his microphone cord and accidentally grabbed Vannah’s ass?!)
Maybe all we really have is HWFRN. The sum total of our feeling and being in the present moment. Is yours polished, oiled, and ready to go? Or are there some bumps and bruises, some bare spots left unpainted. Things unsaid. I’m sorry’s, I love you’s, maybe even a few “screw you’s.” A cry alone in the woods. That novel you know you’ll never finish writing but haunts you anyway.
For me, I want to be still and know that I was a damned good father and husband. That “the way I was” will at least help my daughter in some way positive in her life, and give my wife no regrets. I don’t want the world to suddenly breathe a sigh of relief when I’m gone. That’s my biggest fear. That I was a suck hole. Someone who just made life harder for a few people and didn’t matter to the rest. When I can feel truly like the world (or at least my household, and maybe community) was a better place by having me in it, I could die in that moment with no regrets. I’d want more life, I’d still be under the power of the illusion of “collecting and accumulating.” But I would know deep down that nothing is kept, nothing is accumulated, nothing is collected. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve dreamt simply affects the current moment, and nothing more.
I would say the biggest resistance we face in dying is the gap between what we feel or know we should’ve said or done and that which has been said or done. I suppose this is the only reason we need to live life as we wish to live it. Why we need to push through our fears, at least our interpersonal ones, and live the life we’ve always dreamt about. The destination here isn’t the point. It’s the process. Am I heading there? Am I working toward a full, “suck-the-marrow-out-of-the-moment” life, or am I just waiting to die and keeping myself entertained in the meantime? A great question. I have to admit, I’m not sure how well I can answer this question myself, so I’m going to give it some serious contemplation and make sure I’m not leaving my “unsaid-undone” list too full!
Could it be that the only reason we stand still in our lives, and leave things unsaid and undone is that we are afraid that once we are “impeccable” and all accounts are balanced…we will die? That somewhere down deep we’re afraid God will appear like a principal handing out diplomas at graduation, shake our hand, hand us a “sheepskin” and send us on our way home with a hearty “well done?”
I hope this post moves you in some way, or that you at least find it entertaining and thought provoking. Thank you for reading it.