The Power of Getting in Touch with Your Own Mortality
“But in this world, nothing can be certain except death and taxes.”
— BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
I was lucky, in a strange sort of way, in that one of my best friends died when I was in my early thirties. He was a world-class athlete and only 42 years old. It quickly brought home to me, when I was at an age when few people think of death, how fickle life can be. Most of us pretty much take our lives and our health for granted until we get ill or someone close to us dies. Since Dave’s death 30 years ago, three more of my good friends, one man and two women, have died of various forms of cancer before they reached 50. Randy, Trish and Donna all had a whole lot of life still in them. Only Randy smoked; the other two had healthy lifestyles and just got bad draws in the gene pool. There is not much you can do about that except get regular checkups and try to nip health problems in the bud.
Even when the prognosis was fatal, none of them expected to die. Two were convinced their faith in God would save them, the other that natural healing would. All were making big plans for their futures, but the future never came. Donna never got to see Hawaii, although my wife and I practically begged her to go, even offering frequent flyer miles, and hotels to make it easy.
Too many wonderful people die with vibrancy still in them. While there is little we can do with the winds of fate, we can make sure we get more joy, experience and adventure in our lives. As Jon Bon Jovi so eloquently said. “I don’t want to live forever. I just want to live while I’m alive!”
For Many People, Tomorrow Never Comes
My accountant for 25 years, Brian Donnelly, wouldn’t return my calls. Neither would my agent in New York, Ruth. It turned out they had both died suddenly. At least Ruth was in her seventies. Brian dropped dead of a heart attack at just 54.
The trouble is, you always think you have more time than you do. But one day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to work on the things you’ve always wanted to do or see the things you wanted to see. At that point you either will have achieved the goals you set for yourself or you will have a list of excuses for why you haven’t.
The world’s most famous awards are the Nobel Prizes. Presented for outstanding achievement in literature, peace, economics, medicine and the sciences, they were created a century ago by Alfred B. Nobel, a man who amassed his vast fortune by producing explosives. Among other things, Nobel invented blasting caps and dynamite.
The creation of the Nobel Prizes came about through a chance event. When Nobel’s brother died, a newspaper ran a long obituary on Alfred Nobel, believing that it was he who had passed away. Thus, Nobel had an opportunity granted few people: to read his obituary while still very much alive. What he read horrified him: The newspaper described him as a man who had made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived.
In that shocking instant, Nobel realized two things: that this was how he was going to be remembered by the world, and that this was certainly not how he wanted to be remembered. Shortly thereafter he established the awards. Today, because of his doing so, everyone is familiar with the Nobel Prize, while relatively few people know how Nobel made his fortune.
For most of us, our legacy is the most important thing that we leave behind. What legacy will you leave?
- Accept that death is a part of life and it comes far quicker to many than we all imagined. Every hour from the time we are born is an hour further from our birth and an hour closer to our end.
- Write your own one-page obituary. Include your greatest achievements and fill the page with the things you are most proud of in your life until now. This is a very difficult but empowering thing to do.
- Write the last paragraph of your obituary to include things you intend to do as if you have done them.
- “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander Time; for that’s the Stuff Life is made of.”— BENJAMIN FRANKLIN