If I Die Today, It Will Be Too Soon

She never saw it coming but was likely dead within seconds. It was no one’s fault. No irresponsibility or neglect. Just an accident. Just bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time. A few seconds’ difference and she would have been simply scared or hurt, not dead.

As far as dying goes, it was about as good as one could hope for: nearly instant and never saw it coming. As far as the death of a child goes, it was hard to take. No one to blame, no bad intent, no mistakes made. Nothing anyone could have done different. One second happy, the next second dead. No answers, only questions.

***     ***     ***

I carry an oversized coin in my pocket as a reminder my time is limited. On one side it reads, “Memento Mori” which translates to “remember death,” or “remember you will die”. On the back is a quote form Marcus Aurelius: “You could leave life right now.”

Face it. We’re dead. You, me, everyone. We just don’t know it yet.  Weirdly, that’s not pessimistic or fatalistic or even just negative. That’s just the reality. I find the potential of what we can do with that reality inspiring.

***     ***     ***

I had a medical scare once. I was 31. Some symptoms sent me to the doctor. It looked bad. As in, “hug your loved ones and say goodbye” bad. I was so worried I didn’t tell anyone, not even my wife. It took three days to get the test results back. Three very lonely days with a lot of time to think about things. To think about things we don’t normally think about.

At the time, I was working for my mentor, who was an absolute rock star in his field, and had been for decades. I enjoyed working with him, learned new things daily, had responsibilities beyond my experience, earned a great living, and I walked away from it. What happened?

It turned out to be nothing, but during those three days I asked myself, “What if this is it? What if I only have months? Have I done enough?” The answer was a clear “NO!”.

I needed to do more, to have a bigger impact, to change lives.

The first life I changed was mine. I changed locations, changed careers, and had a bigger impact.

But then time passed and I forgot I am going to die.

***     ***     ***

My father died a year and a half ago. Lymphoma, likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange, destroyed him. He had started slowing down several years prior but no one was surprised. He was getting old and still outworking everyone around him. It all had to catch up some time.

Then it was a lot of trips to the doctors. No one really knew what was wrong, but he required frequent transfusions. He felt fine, other than he’d die without fresh blood. Eventually, more tests revealed the truth.

He called me a week before Thanksgiving to tell me he was dying. His doctor gave him no more than three months to live. As hard as that call was to receive, I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it was to make.

He made it to January 30. The best/worst moment of my life was being there for him when his contribution to the world stopped.

***     ***     ***

I don’t think we humans really understand our mortality. I don’t think we’re wired for it. We’re programmed to survive and, paradoxically, it’s hard to survive if you fear death. Without hope, without vision, we give up. We have to believe we’ll keep living or we’d never get out of bed.

But the downside of that is we are blinded to our mortality. We live in denial. We understand death on an intellectual level, but few of us get it on the emotional, Truth-with-a-capital-T level.

If we did we’d worry more about our effort, our contribution, our legacy. We’d spend less time watching reality TV and more time maximizing our reality. Less time muting our emotions and more time turning the volume on our lives up to 11. Less time enjoying distractions and more time realizing our purpose.

We say our lives matter, that our legacy is important, that we care deeply about our contribution, but the Truth of our priorities lies in what we spend our time on.

***     ***     ***

There is a funeral today for a little girl whose potential will never be realized. Her opportunity to make a difference ended the moment she died. That’s hard to think about, let alone write. It feels mean to type that sentence, but I’m not disparaging her. Her passing doesn’t negate who she was or the love she had for her family and friends. It’s just the reality that whatever contribution she was going to make to the world ended in that moment. And that moment came too soon.

My father died with untapped potential. Wickedly smart and deeply human, he left with too few benefiting from his wisdom and compassion. That’s hard to think about, let alone write. It feels mean to type that sentence, but I’m not disparaging him. His passing didn’t negate who he was or the love he had for his family and friends. It’s just the reality that whatever contribution he was going to make to the world ended in that moment. And that moment came too soon.

There will be a funeral for me someday. Today, tomorrow, thirty or fifty years from now, I don’t know. My passing won’t negate who I was or the love I had for my family and friends. It’s just the reality that whatever contribution I was going to make to the world will end in that moment. And that moment will come too soon.

Whether I will die or not is not even a question.

The real question is: what will I do before I die? How will the world have been better for my being here?

The clock is ticking. I better keep moving.

 

 

 

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