Why worry about dying?

“Some day a company of men and women will process off to a church and lower a coffin and everyone will go home, but one will not come back, and that will be me.” – Karl Barth. Karl Barth was acknowledging with his comment the inevitability of his own death. How many of us think about our deaths? Perhaps it seems morbid to reflect on death, but death will come whether you want to think about it or not.

Each day the papers and news bring us a slew of deaths. Some if not most are unpredictable and tragic. Many are testimony to the seemingly endless cruelty of man to his or her own kind. However, reading about the deaths of others is not the same as thinking about your own death. To some extent our fascination with the deaths of others is a way of avoiding thinking about our own deaths. When we are young we think we will live forever. Many of us continue to avoid the issue of death until perhaps it is staring us in the face. We want to deny that we get old. We deny that we are loosing our youth. We deny that we need to watch our weight and our health. Aging is a very gradual process that seems to be marked by a series of losses until one day we lose life itself. We may never know it until it is too late to think about it. What good will it do you to worry about something that is inevitable?

For me, thinking about my death is not a process for dealing with death as much as it is a process for dealing with life. I set my goals and compass knowing full well that death could come at any moment. I make my amends and ask my forgiveness from others knowing that tomorrow might be too late. I don’t put off the things I want to do in life because the time might not be there to do them in the future. There is a saying that I try to live by. It goes as follows: “live each day as though it may be your last, but spend your money as though you will live forever.” The life we live can be one of quality or it can be one of fear and despair. As Caesar said “Cowards die many times before their deaths, the brave die only once.”

Will you be ready for death when it comes? If you were to die today, would you be satisfied with the life you have lead? Could you leave this earth and look back down with the feeling that you left it a better place? Could you say you have done your best? Did you leave with only friends and no enemies? What would it take to change your life now so that you are ready to go, whenever death comes calling?

How about taking a vacation from time?

The British writer John B. Priestly once observed “A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.” I suppose this means that other people are not keeping time for us or putting us on a schedule. How often do we meet the clock only because we worry about offending others? Would we be as scheduled if the feelings of our friends, relatives and employers were not an issue? Who among us would wear a watch or bother keeping time, if there were no consequences to be paid for “being late” or not being “on time?”

What if there was a vacation where you could get away from time? Let’s call it a “Time Free Vacation.” Here is what a “Time Free Vacation” would be like. No one is allowed to wear a watch. There are no schedules to be met. You can get up whenever you want to. You can eat whenever you want to and leave when you want to. Everything you would like to see and do is available anytime you want to visit. Furthermore, you do not have to be home at any special time, so you could continue this vacation as long as you desired.

How many of us would take such a vacation? Can you imagine what would it would be like to live like this for a month? How about an entire year? Do you think you would be able to come back to keeping time again? Would the world miss you while you were out of the loop?

When you go on a vacation, do you leave your watch at home? Is it possible for you to forget about time, even when you are on a vacation? What keeps you married to time? Have you ever considered a divorce? How about taking one day off a month or even a year from time? Give yourself a gift of a “Time Free Vacation.”

Can you spare two seconds?

Two seconds can be a lifetime. Your entire life can sometimes pass before your eyes in two seconds. If you have ever had a close encounter or accident, the world can seem like it is standing still while your life flashes ahead. In two seconds, a vehicle moving at 70 mph will travel 204 feet. If you see something in the road and you blink, you have just traveled 102 feet before you have even reacted. Two seconds can mean the difference between life and death several times over.

We never appreciate time as much as when we have a close call. A close call (maybe even less than two seconds) brings us face to face with death. Your heart will beat so hard that it may feel like you have just finished a marathon. After a close call, many people go into a state of shock even without any injuries. Several years ago while on a trip to London, I stepped off the curb and looking the wrong direction (it appears buses in England drive on the left side of the street), I stepped in front of a moving bus. Karen pulled me back just before the bus would have flattened me. My heart was beating a mile a minute and I could not believe I was still alive. Karen’s admonition to be more careful mattered very little to me at this time.

After a close call is over and you have calmed down, you may reflect on how precarious life really is and perhaps on what you could do to use it more wisely. None of us need these traumas in our life, but having had several of them myself, I appreciate life a great deal more. I seldom take death lightly or for granted and while I am not morbid about it, I live each day with the possibility of death in my mind. I think these events have made me more appreciative of the brief candle that life is.

Have you ever had a two second close call? What do you remember about the event? How did it change your life? Do you take life for granted or do you live each day fully knowing it may be your last?

How do you celebrate your birthday?

Birthdays come once a year, unless you were born on leap year. They are a time for celebration. A birthday is a personal holiday. It seems a shame that companies don’t give us our birthdays off as a paid holiday. When did people start celebrating birthdays? Did Adam and Eve celebrate their birthdays? If so, there is no mention in the bible of this fact. One would think that since they were the first people in the world, they would have been eager to celebrate their birthdays. Perhaps they had too much else going on.

According to Wikipedia, the following are some facts about birthdays:

• Large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but was spread by soldiers throughout the Roman Empire.
• Birthday celebrations were rare during the Middle Ages but saw a resurgence with the advent of the Reformation.
• The celebration of birthdays is not universal in the West; in addition to those people preferring name day celebrations, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate either, considering them to be pagan festivals along with Christmas and Easter.

It is a good thing we don’t all have to march to the same drummer. Some of us prefer to celebrate our birthdays and some do not. I have developed a habit of trying to do something very unique every fifth birthday. This has become a way of challenging myself every five years to do something different or to face a personal fear. Thus on my 55th birthday, I did my first skydive. I had always been afraid of heights so jumping out of a plane at about 4000 feet was a real challenge. Sometimes the challenges have been physical and other times more emotional. I am determined at my next “fifth” to take acting lessons. This would be very out of character for me and a real challenge personally and emotionally. Thus, birthdays can mark a time of growth as well as a time of passage. I have known people who bring their own birthday cakes to work to help others celebrate their birthdays.

Birthdays can be as creative as you want to make them. You can even have an “unbirthday party and celebrate 364 days a year, except of course on your actual birthday. How do you regard your birthdays? Do you see them as a time of growth, creativity, and playfulness, or do you regard birthdays with dread and loathing? What do you do to make your birthdays special? Do you wait for others to remember you or do you remember yourself? Why not take charge and give yourself the birthday of your dreams this year?

When was the last time you took a nap?

Naptime has always been one of my favorite moments. I love taking naps. Many people do not. There is also a stereotype in which “older” people need naps but younger ones do not need them. I have been taking naps all of my life. Ever since I can remember, I love taking naps in the afternoon. I can nap for only thirty minutes and feel so wonderful after. I remember interviewing for a job a few years ago and the “much” younger woman behind the desk kept mentioning to me that “we really need to do things fast around here.” I felt like telling her that I could not really do things that fast since I would have to nap each day right after lunch.

Is the world divided into napers and non-napers? In some parts of the world, an afternoon nap or siesta time is traditional. In other countries, the work ethic does not permit naps. Naps probably started going out the door with the Industrial Revolution; another casualty of our hectic life in the so called “modern” or civilized world. I have seen some recent articles talking about how healthy it is to take naps. Maybe it is time to start a trend or fad. Here is one way I think we could do it. Nap Parties!

We have alls sorts of parties but has anyone ever invited you over to a “nap party?” When you were a child, you may have gone to a slumber party but only if you were a girl. Men were always too macho for that kind of an activity. That was just for “silly” girls. You might argue that nap parties would not work because as our economies develop and the world gets more competitive, we don’t have time for such foolishness. We need to be more productive and get things done. What would business and industry be like if everyone took naps in the middle of the afternoon? How could we compete on a world scale if everyone took a nap each day? Interesting how we have become more concerned with competing and less concerned with stress and our personal health. Maybe we would all live longer and have a lot less stress if we took more naps. Perhaps like the turtle versus the hare, a little nap might help us to win the longer races.

When was the last time you took a nap? What was it like? Do you have enough naps in your life? How could you get more naps in your life? What if you took a nap today? What would others think about it?

What regrets do you have about your life?

What does time have to do with regrets? I once heard someone say that the only thing you will regret when your life is over are those things that you wanted to do but never did. Some of these things may be adventures that were never taken or people you wanted to meet and never did. They may also include apologies you wanted to make or forgiveness you wanted and never gave or received. You may look back on your life someday with no regrets as my friend Harold Johnson did. However, I think it is a rare individual that will live their life with no regrets. Time plays an important role in this process since we often act as though we would have unlimited time to fix things. I will call and apologize tomorrow. I will see them later. I will take that trip next year. What if tomorrow never comes? Who among us knows the time of our death?

If you could take a walk to a cemetery and talk to the people therein, what do you think they would they say about their lives and their regrets? I can imagine how many would say that they regret they never really prioritized their lives according to what really mattered. Mary was struck by a car while on a shopping trip. Paul had a heart attack while watching a soccer game. Israel was sitting at a bar when shot during an attempted hold-up. Sarah had always wanted to have enough money to visit the Holy land but could never seem to save enough for the trip. Jasmine says she would have liked to have spent more time with her son and daughter. Mohamed had not seen his parents in over two years because he was too busy with school and work.

What regrets about your life do you have today? What can you do about them today? Some of them you can do nothing about, but others you can. Like they say in the Serenity Prayer: “Lord, help us to know the difference.” Make a list of regrets you might be able to do something about. Be optimistic. Don’t put this off until tomorrow. Do it today. When you have made this list, choose one to work on for the next week or month. Perhaps this will become a good habit. When you have finished your list, how do you think you will feel?

Are you a time keeper or a time ignorer?

Are you keeping time? Can the world be divided into time keepers and time ignorers? Do those folks who do not wear time pieces simply ignore time, or do they keep time in their own way? I once heard someone say that “you cannot trust a person who does not wear a watch.” Today, many people do not wear a watch. Cell phones, laptops, GPS systems and PDA’s all keep perfectly accurate time. However, are the same folks who would wear a watch now using these devices, and those folks who could not care less about the time, still ignoring it?

Time keepers tend to be worriers and somewhat obsessive. However, they also feel responsible and compelled to live up to their temporal commitments. A time keeper is dedicated to the “keeping” of good time. This means being on time, doing things in a timely manner, being alert to the passing of time and using time wisely. As with all of life, there is a time to keep time and a time to ignore it. Time ignorers use time but are not obsessed with keeping track of time. They also keep their commitments but are less obsessed with the ritual aspects of time keeping and more concerned with the relational. It is not being on time that is important to them so much as being with time. Time ignorers live in the present and may be more concerned with the quality of the time they use. Time pieces can not measure the quality of the time we use only the coming and going of time. The real secret of time may lie in finding a balance between keeping time and ignoring time.

Are you a time keeper or a time ignorer? Do the above descriptions fit you at all? Would you say that sometimes you choose to ignore time and sometimes not ignore it? Have you found the right balance between keeping time and ignoring it? If not, what do you have to do to find a better balance in your life?

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