Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.Norman Cousins
I have let myself go.
The COVID-19 has snuck up on me and I have been a willing participant. Excess cocktails, the afternoon beer on the beach, the indulgent lunches, the carb attack snacks at midnight, all fueled by anxiety, stress, depression, and a cavalier attitude. “What if tomorrow I’m sick on a covid19 floor, isolated, and this is my last (insert word—meal, place I went to, drink—etc) and I didn’t know it? What do I want my last moments to be,” I think as a I make another gin and tonic, eat the cake, and sit too numb to even read for escape, mindlessly absorbing whatever sound bite is on the nearest screen. I want to LIVE in the moment! I want that moment to be special! So I keep on keeping on doing things that undo a lot of the progress I have made in my life. The irony is, how special is that moment I can’t even remember the next day because it was meaningless, or manifests itself in heart burn from overindulgence or a headache that won’t go away no matter how much coffee and water I drink? Fear and uncertainty are poor drivers in my daily choices of how I want those moments to look like, grasping at these fleeting pleasures that also leave lasting impacts I see in the mirror and the fact that my jeans barely fit. But the worst drivers are disillusionment and the loss of hope. Faith in my future, my fellow humans, even the structure my life was built upon, have been shaken to such a degree that my usual forethought and self imposed discipline needed to drive positive change are nowhere to be found.
We all know. One day this will all end. Death comes to us all. Facing one’s mortality is a theme many philosophers and writers have addressed since the beginning of time. Religions proffer faith and guidance on this life and the next. We all form our set of beliefs. I have my own and they haven’t changed. What has changed is that I have let the shadow of death blanket the light in my life. And here is where I struggle.
When I was very young, I remember lying in bed thinking about time and the universe. My eyes closed and I’d envision the year 3038 (which to a 9 year old is far off and close to eternity). What would it look like? Would humans have flying cars? Would we have gone back to the moon and far beyond into space? Would we explore galaxies where a rebellion was fighting for good to prevail over evil and I’d be a resistance fighter with a cool laser gun (Princess Leia was one of my idols). I would spend hours imagining what might be, until one day I thought, I will never see that time. I’ll be gone. I will never see what is built or exists. It was in that moment I realized my own mortality. My curious self felt a huge loss at never knowing. But it was also in that moment that I realized a facet of my own nature—focus on what I can have, not what I do not have. I accepted death as inevitable, true, and that would limit what I could know, but I could explore and know what was in my here and now (insert *I’m pragmatic*). And there was plenty for me to explore, enough for several lifetimes, never mind just my one. And that was enough for me, at that age and even today, to focus my life into one driven by a thirst for knowledge.
So I go back to the thought—what do I want my last moments to be? Not just in what I was doing in those moments, but what I have built from all the moments past to be where I am. Some will say they want a legacy of benevolence and love marked with contributions to better the world, and all that is certainly true. But those are outside features of the inside person I am. What I want to be in those last moments is to know I have been true to myself. That I have journeyed my life and not lost hope, faith, curiosity, and the ability to wonder. As I saw the once in my lifetime conjunction last night on my beach, I realized that I could continue the side path I’m on, the one taking me away from who I am and where I want to be, or I could realign with my true self, the path that made it possible to be on that beach in that moment because I’d embraced who I am meant to be. And with that thought, the floodgates opened. Hope springs eternal, and it is there if we open our eyes to see it.