“Death never comes at the right time, despite what mortals believe. Death always comes like a thief.” Christopher Pike
I am in a bit of shock. I received word this morning that one of my employers passed away yesterday. It appears to have been an accident, meaning, this is all very sudden and unexpected. He leaves behind a beautiful wife and precious daughter.
Death rarely hits so close to home for me and as such, I rarely get to be reminded how fragile life is. With more than seven billion human beings on the planet and counting, the species hedges against this fragility by playing the numbers. But this doesn’t speak to any of us on a personal level. We tend to consider only our own lives. And this is a frightening prospect. Time waits for no man; when it is your time is up, your time is up as a friend likes to say.
“We must conquer life by living it to the full, and then we can go to meet death with a certain prestige.” Aleister Crowley
I had a dream (twice actually) a few years ago that I received a note that said, “In 2015 your dead.” My first reaction to the note in my dream was that whoever wrote the note misspelled ‘you’re.’ Beyond that I have been a little wary of this year, wondering if there is a specter lurking nearby. Yet I go about my business not so afraid that it keeps me from doing possibly dangerous activities. This aside, if I were to die this year, would I be satisfied with the totality of my life? “What if tomorrow never came? / Could I live with myself as I lie in my grave?” I once wrote in a song. This bothers me because I feel I haven’t gotten around to doing anything significant with my life.
“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin, Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.” Emily Dickinson
I try to take a solace in Emily Dickinson’s poem. If the point of life were to help others, then I feel I have contributed much. Maybe not as much as I could possibly have, but a fair enough amount for me to be satisfied with. But I haven’t done much for myself. As I have complained before, despite being one of the greatest thinkers to ever live, if I died tomorrow the world would go on without the major contribution to the world I wish to make. (Not that any of us really matter when you consider how vast the universe is, but the universe has nothing to say about how we feel about ourselves.) So what if I did die tomorrow? I suppose I’d be happy I’d get some damn sleep. But I fear I’d leave a world of people behind who have no ambition to accomplish anything. I believe this default setting for human beings has been the bane of humanity’s existence.
Fortunately my employer did accomplish much. He founded two schools so that people could receive the education needed to serve people in a meaningful way. Running a school increases and spreads knowledge exponentially. I am glad to be around people trying to accomplish something. As an educator myself, I hope I am doing a good job of helping people achieve their goals. It should inspire me to achieve my own. Everyone else may bide their time until death but perhaps there has been enough of that throughout history. While there may not be enough of celebrating life, there is even less celebration of achievement.
I will raise a glass to my departed employer. Then I will raise a glass to my own life. Then I will get to work.
…I leave you with these words from Plato’s Socrates, “To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.” Perhaps we should not mourn the dead, but it seems we have all mourned living too much. In the immortal words of the pop-duo Wham, choose life!...