NOTE: Please don’t let the title put you off reading this week’s offering; it was inspired by a reader who is very much alive and well! It was what he said that took me down this path this week. Read on.
A professional acquaintance wrote me an email this week, expressing condolences for my recent loss of a family member, quite tragically and unexpectedly. His exact words were, “I am so sorry…! I never know what to say at moments like these, but I hope you have some good memories to hold on to.”
I maintain that he is not alone – very few of us know what to say when confronted with news like mine - a traffic accident robbed my family member of one half of his remaining life and left me with a few common memories of our childhood.
I believe it goes deeper than that. Not only is a sudden death a rude wake up call to remind us of our own mortality – scary, huh? – but what really struck me about his thought is more about being in the present. To illustrate, I responded to his thought above with, “I think that by just acknowledging my sad news is enough; too often in this life, we glaze over and run past the significant milestones in our lives. If anything, being reminded by others who are expressing their condolences, it forces us to stop a minute and not leave the present so quickly.”
Isn’t it odd and even ironic that when someone else’s life timeline ceases to exist is when we really focus on our own right now? Upon further reflection, I reached back into memory to try to capture some fleeting moments of our early life together. It was then that I realized something about my own life and a question I just had to answer. How much have I lived in the present and how much have I “showed up” in same?
That answer came from Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832), who said it better than I ever could: “How small a portion of our life it is that we really enjoy! In youth we are looking forward to things that are to come; in old age we are looking backward to things that are gone past; in manhood, although we appear indeed to be more occupied in things that are present, yet even that is too often absorbed in vague determinations to be vastly happy on some future day when we have time.”
Well said, Mr. Colton - I am guilty as charged. Is this universally true? Quite possibly the answer lies in the notion that we are all anesthetized to “feeling” by the fast pace of modern day life or is it that we might not like what we would see if we stopped for a moment to reflect on our own timeline? Regardless of your answer, I believe it is important to acknowledge that death is just as important as life; if not for the finality of it, but, rather, for the reminders it provides for us to be in the present.
Or, are we just afraid of what’s to come? Lewis Carroll wrote; “We are but older children, my dear; who fret to find their bedtime so near.”