Is it one’s age, a recently read book, perhaps the passing of someone close, or a health scare. Since we are all on our own unique journey in life, it’s remains idiosyncratic how suddenly, something triggers thoughts associated with humanity and death hence, mortality. For some, such thoughts strike as if an epiphany of sorts as they get past the age of fifty or later, which is, I believe infantile, given that death, in one form or another, has always been around us, not just in the news but in family.
Personally, the thought of dying, while not uppermost in my mind, does present more often of late, this seems natural and probably due to my age. I felt silly when recently, upon thinking about the possibility of living to a ripe old age of 85 it occurred to me that, being nearly 56, I have completed almost 66% of my stint on this mortal plane. How egocentric on my part to even expect that I reach a minimum chosen age, any age past my present one for that matter. Who am I to dictate how old I must or, even hope to be upon dying, save for having an accident.
Mishaps aside, it occurs to me that there are two broad stages to dying or end of life process. The first stage begins the moment we are born, human life is finite even in the absence of disease, 80, 90, 100 years? It’s pure conjecture and depends on a host of lifestyle factors. The second stage represents society’s accepted characterization whereby a person is diagnosed with an illness and, following a period of unsuccessful treatments the term ‘terminal’ suddenly and chillingly enters the vocabulary. This stage may represent days, months or years.
Call me juvenile but it’s both these stages that from time to time, mess with my mind. My late father was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer at age 64 and died around 22 months later. That was in 2005 or 11 years ago, I was 45, fast forward to my current age and it suddenly occurs to me that if I only live to my father’s age I have around 10 years left. In sum, ill health when coupled with the finite nature of life, combine to give rise to my ruminations about impermanence in the context of being around those I love and in turn, love me.
The inevitable truth about dying is that it’s happening right now to you and me in some form or another, it is indolent but nonetheless occurring, and quantifiably so. The latter needs no scientific apparatus to validate, I only need look at old photographs for visual verification, or take note of the more frequent aches and pains that present.
Socrates suggested that death is really “a change or a migration of the soul from one place to another”, Mother Teresa would add, “but going home to God’, both of which are comforting. As the inevitable draws closer, it is becoming wholly apparent that living fully and embracing it all, the highs and lows, the exultations and the blows, is of fundamental importance to a life well lived regardless of time limitations. This may give us more than a clue to what Mark Twain meant when he said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life … A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”.
As an emotive being, I must confess that it is the aforesaid term, “finite” that every so often unsettles me. We’re all limited, we have a predictable and determinate lifespan in linear years that, in the grand scheme of things, represents no more than a miniscule fraction of time past, present and future. And there lies another juvenile conundrum, who am I to question what is unalterable, what has been set by a power greater than the sum of all of us. I have reservations about my finite existence, really, I moot in silent reflection, how laughable in view of its antonym, which just so happens to be, infinite. If my existence is not finite then it must be infinite, God must be laughing too.
As I considered my closing lines to this piece, I find myself intuitively taking solace in the knowledge that many of us do not deliberate on such foreboding thoughts until it they must, until something happens, until dying is thrust upon them, death and all its connotations not merely strikes close to, but nearly always pierces the heart, but then it’s oh so late.
I must live fully now, in all my present moments, it’s my raison d'etre and perhaps yours, Sapientia et Doctrina.