I'm spending the last few hours of the decade in the contemplation of death (or what has been called memento mori). Unfortunately, that's something I've done quite a bit in recent years. But still, let's just say that this New Year's Eve is different than I expected. I thought I would celebrate the past, make plans, and write a grand post about what I learned from the last 10 years. Well, as Allen Saunders put it:
"Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans."
You see, someone who was a pillar in a community that I belong to (lovingly called "Dr. Clever" for her insightfulness) passed away very unexpectedly and way too early... and we all found out yesterday. Now, people worldwide are grieving her death... including me, who never even met her in person. That's the type of impact she had. I spent yesterday in a daze, randomly bursting into tears from time to time.
It was a heartbreaking, rude reminder of memento mori (Latin: "remember you will die") which is the ancient practice of reflecting on one's mortality.
We could, literally, die any moment and that's exactly what happened with Dr. Clever.
As I found out, she got an astrology reading done for 2020, a year that she will not experience (at least not in a physical body).
No matter how you feel about astrology and its validity, that's something to sit with. It burns.
It's like buying a fancy dress for a ball... and then dying before the big event.
But that's how life is. It often ends mid-sentence. Us humans, we're storytelling creatures. We like a beginning, a middle, and a (preferably) happy end.
Real life is messy. We start life covered in blood, bald, and utterly helpless. The subsequent plot sometimes (often?) leaves something to be desired.
There are no villains, or too many. The hero is perhaps not that heroic. And the ending might come too abrupt or be drawn out for too long or...
But perhaps that's ultimately more meaningful than a perfectly structured story. Art is art... but life is life.
The sea is so very big, and my boat is so very small.
— Eriol (@eriolcaw) December 27, 2019
Death often sucks. But... it also gives life meaning.
I realized this after reading an amazing story about a (kind-hearted) demon who decides to go to therapy after a traumatic incident.
This presents the therapist with a professional challenge: all of existential therapy is founded on human mortality and basically poses the question "given that your life is finite, what do you want to focus on?"
So, how the hell (pun intended) do you do existential therapy with an immortal demon?
You and I, we don't have that problem. We have a different problem: how do we live in the face of our own inevitable death?
I don't think New Year's is necessarily the best time for reflecting on the question of what really matters. It's often loud, noisy, and busy. However, given what just happened, I don't see myself doing anything else.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” ― Mitch Albom
P.S.: Dr. Clever's byline was: "she continues." That's a silver lining.
Which brings me to the next point:
If you have a more "traditional" New Year's ahead of you, I have a question for you: are you setting New Year's Resolutions?
If you do, you might want to consider these three guidelines (courtesy of Tony Stubblebine):
- Pick what's in your heart, not what you are feeling pressure to do. Resolutions are hard, and you want to make sure you feel deeply committed to your choice all year.
- A resolution should be defined by your process, not your outcome. You can only control what you do, not what comes of it.
- Failure is normal. If you don't want to be normal, then get support. Get a friend. Get family. Get a coach.
What did you choose, and why? Please leave me your comments below.
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