It has been many days since I was told about the death of a stranger. Somehow, it keeps visiting my mind. So I decided to really sit, reflect, and write it down. Perhaps there’s something there that will help you and me.
A friend of a family member, a woman in her 30s, was sitting with her sister, watching TV when suddenly her nose bled. Then she felt cold. Then they took her to the hospital.
Then she died.
It reminds me of a friend at work who passed away two years ago. She was also young and healthy and active; a runner — she probably did more running than I will ever do in my life. She died, very suddenly, from a complication of stroke.
An unconscious part of us believes in that perfect story: because of biomedical advancements, we will not face a fatal diagnosis for a long time, not until well into our 90s. And when it’s time to leave, it will be quick, with minimum pain, if at all.
Death as a reminder of Life
The truth is, as much as we try to avoid thinking about it, life tends to deviate from that story. Despite our efforts, death may visit us, or the people we love, much earlier than we ever expected.
The sudden deaths of strangers serve as painless but fierce reminders of that reality. We can choose to respond in one of three ways:
The neutral way, where we become apathetic to death. We let the news passes by without allowing it to impact our perspective. Such a waste.
The destructive way, where we allow it to reinforce a cynical view: ‘There’s no point of exercising or eating right, there’s no reason for studying or working hard; because even healthy young people can die just like that.’
And then there is the constructive way, where the death becomes a force of remembrance that we, too, are dying, right here, right now, in one form or another.
Life is short…
With that realisation, we resolve to change the way we live:
- We learn to let trivial things go
We spend less time worrying about the wrong things. When our loved ones say something upsetting, when the WiFi is slow, when people say no; we ask ourselves ‘If I were to die next week, would I want to spend my remaining time stressing about this?’
- We become less fearful of change
We look at our entire life and ask ‘If I were to die soon, is this what I want my life to be all about?’ That will lessen, if not eliminate, the fear of making decisive life changes: to start that creative project, to consider an alternative career, to end that pernicious relationship.
- We appreciate the ‘boring’, uneventful days
We realise that it’s not a boring day; it’s a blessed day — with a boring you in it. It’s a blessed day because nothing disastrous happens. You, on the other hand, are boring, until you are grateful for that blessing, and do something about your day. When that is realised, the day becomes intoxicatingly delightful, precisely because it is uneventful.
I agree. Life is short. But if you live it consciously, life is long enough.