I am obsessed with death. I think about it all the time.
When I wake up. When I go to bed. When I am driving. When I am walking my dogs.When I am in those quiet, reflective moments.
Sounds crazy, morbid, depressing, a bit extreme. I am sure that’s what you may be thinking.
But for me, thinking about death actually helps me celebrate life.
I was always this way. And it’s not what happened to me when I hit the mid-life crisis age of 50 either.
You see, for me, knowing that at any minute, I could leave this physical place, gives me the joy and freedom to let the negative, small things go and instead, truly embrace all of the beautiful moments that happen a hundred times a day. I will go for a walk and think, “what if this is the last moment I have, man, those trees are beautiful and that sky is just breathtaking.” Or if I am with a friend or loved one, I think the same thing that what if that’s the last time I see them.
I read two books recently that really drove that point home. Joan Didion’s stunning book The Year of Magical Thinking and Paul Kalanithi’s tragic, but beautiful book When Breath Becomes Air. (thanks Suj for the latter book recommendation).
Both books describe how in a split second, life changes. One describes the loss of a loved one and the other, his own pending death. From life to death. In an instant.
And sadly, I am sure many of us know people who died too young, tragically, without warning.
Living this way, for me, means an absolute sense of freedom. It also forces me to never take a single moment, a single experience, a single person for granted.
I have written how in the past I was lost in work and my own stress and anxieties. And being so lost in my own mind made time literally fly by. Years went by and I felt like I wasn’t present through most of it because I was so consumed by own false, insecure narrative.
These days, my narrative is to celebrate the gift of life. In as many minutes and seconds as I can. When I see my kids, I truly see them as miracles. I cherish the time with my wife. And I am grateful for all of my family members that are with me here and now, as well as my amazing group of friends.
It’s all also part of being mindful and present as often as possible. Whether I am eating a piece of fruit, sitting in a comfortable chair or even shopping in the supermarket. Yup, even ShopRite:). I am present in all of my experiences. Laughing. Smiling. Blessed. Eyes wide open.
Thinking this way also has made other changes in my life. I try and connect to people I love more often and not let too much distance come between us. Even people I might not have spoken to in forever, I will send a short note saying I am thinking of them. I also no longer put things off to the future by saying, “When this happens, I will do this XYZ thing…”. No, if I want to do something, I don’t wait. I make it happen. “Life changes in an instant…”.
One of the other things I also changed about my habits is that I no longer look at my phone when I am out and about. Walk down any street and all you see are zombies staring at their phones. Never looking up. Never seeing the beauty all around them. Crazy. Talk about not being mindful! What a waste of a moment to not really see life unfolding all around you.
Some amazing quotes on this theme, led by my favorite one by Steve Jobs from his Stanford Commencement Speech:
So my thought to you is to always try and remember that life is a gift and you should never take it for granted. Try and see the miracles before you every second of the day. From your loved ones to everything that surrounds you, no matter where you are. The alternative is to spend your days distracted on the things that don’t matter in the end. To waste your time on Earth with silly distractions and petty grievances.
Living this way has also encouraged me to take more risks and follow my true passions. To try new things. To step out of my comfort zones. I simply don’t want to look back when the day eventually does come in like 100 years:) and say, “I wish I had the courage to take that risk and followed my dreams.”
Remember, one thing we all have in common is that we will all die one day. But, until that day comes, why not embrace this truth and actually live like you are dying. Because you are. And you will therefore see all of the extraordinary beauty that surrounds you. It’s right in front of your eyes. Smile. Breathe. Repeat. And repeat. And…