I came across this website that has been predicting the demise of others since 2006. And it may not be a coincidence that I have been thinking about mortality of late.
The other day, I was at the funeral of a man who died so suddenly that it came as a shock to everyone who knew him; and lots knew him. He was a kind, decent man who deserved a little longer in the game of life. In circumstances such as this, the thoughts about life and death come swirling around you like a tide that cannot be halted. We live, we die. Yet, it is not the death thing that interests me so much as the life thing.
For a while, I have been thinking about writing a story about a man who is told the exact time and pace of his death. I know that this is not an original idea, but it is an interesting one. A short time ago, I didn’t care so much for the business of life. I had failed the test, not competed in the game; lost. It was not so much as believing that things would be better off without me rather that I would not be missed and that my pain, that was my life, would cease.
It’s taken some time to rid me of this belief, but I have done so and now think that I ought to be participating in that living activity as if death was due tomorrow.
Whilst at the funeral, I noticed another old acquaintance who was inexplicably using a walking stick. It wasn’t being used in the way that somebody would employ if it was needed solely for a little balance, but as someone who needed to use in order to lend themselves an essential support. He wasn’t merely limping, he was struggling.
The guy in question had always been a keen athlete and ran marathons for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even supper. I asked another friend about the circumstances and he told me that the man in question had but a year to live; ‘motor-neurone disease’.
I’m at that age now when people are beginning to die more frequently. After my father died, I was suddenly hit by an understanding of my own mortality and it carried with it the imperative to live my life to the full (whatever that meant). The result was that this new understanding seemed to propel me towards a breakdown, a sudden hamstring-pull in my personal race, an acceptance that I ought not to bother too much as death was inevitable.
It was difficult to talk to the guy who was dying. That’s akin to saying that it is difficult to talk to people in general, because we are all in the process of dying, it’s just the final sell-by-date that is missing.
This acquaintance was now in possession of a rather accurate date, give or take a month or two. He had the prior knowledge of his own demise that is as solemn a load as anything placed upon anybody’s head. It was incredibly difficult to talk to him beyond the obligatory and inane, “How are things going?” Fortunately, he understood the difficulty that the situation engendered and replied with, “Fine. How are you?” I bit back the ‘struggling on‘ staple just in time.
During the course of the next few hours, I caught snippets of his conversation with others and picked up the type of humour that would befit a prisoner sentenced to the gallows. He talked about shopping for ideas regarding his own funeral, saying that he liked this, he quite liked that, or he wouldn’t be seen dead doing that.
So, he’s got another year to go. After that, his ticket expires and he’ll be thrown off the ride.
My wife told me, this morning, that she heard that the was planning to fit as much life into his life as is humanly possible. The disease he suffers from may inhibit some of his plans, but he is not waiting around for it. He has created a bucket-list and had already begun to tick things off. One of the things he is going to do is to motorcycle, with his brother, across the States. Good for him. Brilliant for him. Where he now stands, death has no dominion. Better to get living than to wait for dying.
In the midst of life, we are in death.
I know that now. I understand that after a while we stop regenerating. We lose hair. Our skin loses it elasticity. We lose our sight. We lose our ability to repair and renew. We lose our memories. But life is not merely a gradual wearing down of our senses and faculties, it is an opportunity to unravel our own meaning. We may be just random atoms, but atoms make patterns and it is up to us, it is our right, to see them. Life makes sense in retrospect.
So, one friend dies and another awaits death. He is taking the next year to make sense of his ride. Every tiny thing he does denies the inconceivable concept of oblivion.
Yes, we get it right at the very end.
Life is precious. It is that once in lifetime experience that does not tend to come round for most of us ever again.
I don’t want to know the date on which my time is up. I do not want to know when, where, and why. All I want to know is that my life will continue its upward trajectory and I will continue to live it as it should be lived, each and every day.