“I would rather die a meaningful death than to live a meaningless life.” ~Corazon Aquino
I realized this past week that I can die, and I don’t mean in the sense that anyone who is born will eventually die, but in the sense that a bus can hit me tomorrow and I could be gone. It wouldn’t matter how young I am, or how fit I am, or even how many people love and cherish me. Once my time comes it comes, and while I’d rather it be sixty years from now when I die in my sleep it could honestly be tomorrow, and what do I have to show for my life to this point?
When I got married my wife insisted that we have a lawyer draft our wills. I had never thought about my worldly possessions before. I mean, I owned an old Ford Probe that worked half of the time, a VCR that was completely broken, and a bevy of CDs, books, and video tapes that were probably worth a fourth of what I paid for them when they were new. But my wife explained it well enough for even me to get. It wasn’t about what I owned right now, my physical property. It was about preparing for life after my death, about naming beneficiaries, about life insurance funds, and about making sure my final wishes would be carried out.
In other words, it was really heavy stuff. Concrete even. And as we sat in his office, our lawyer outlined everything for us in black and white, how things would go in the event of my death, untimely or not. When he said the word “untimely” I wondered if a death was ever timely, if it ever really was just someone’s time to go, or if even then it was untimely. I spent the time thinking of those things instead of dwelling on the inevitable, that at some point the only pieces of me left in this world will be memories and experiences, and even those will fade in time.
How do I live a meaningful life where what I do makes a difference in other people’s lives, so that when I die my spirit will live on through positive memories?
That’s why it hit me so hard this past week when I found out that one of my high school friends was killed in a motorcycle accident. At first it was just surreal, like when you read about a dog finding its way back across thousand of miles to its former home. It seems like it couldn’t possibly be real, but then you see the dog panting in the yard and you realize it’s for real. That dog somehow made the journey and ended up where he began oh so long ago. It couldn’t be real that she was dead, but then it was, and it hit hard. She was my friend. She was my age. She enjoyed life, and lived a meaningful one.
So why did she have to die? Was it just “her time?” And what does that mean for me? My mortality suddenly hung down in front of my face, confronting me like the ghost of Jacob Marley. I could hear the chains rattling in my mind and the sound did not sit well with me. If Sue could die, what was to stop others I love from dying, or even ultimately me? The answer was a resounding “absolutely nothing,” and it scared the piss out of me. Honestly, have I lived the most meaningful life I could? When I pass on will others take notice that I was a good man or will the memorial service be empty? Is it better to celebrate life now than to have others do it after I’m gone?
I know what Sue would have said. Live each moment as if it’s your last. That’s how she always lived her life, and I admired her for it. I still admire her for it. She said the things that others only thought. She lived the life that others only dreamed about, not because she wasn’t afraid, or that she was above it all, but because she knew none of it mattered. She knew the pretenses were all overrated, and she had gotten her life together like so many of us wish for but still haven’t achieved. Hers was a meaningful death, even though it was way too soon, because she lived a meaningful life right up until her last moments on this earth.
And I want my death to be meaningful too, so I’m going to live now like that bus could hit me tomorrow. Because it can.