“Probably like you, there’ve been times I’ve looked up from something I once thought important or worthy, my little life’s work, and I’ve thought: “What the hell am I doing? Why do this?” In my case, this question has heaved up frequently in the last decade.” — Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age, The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble
It’s a given.
We can’t escape it.
And yet, we refuse to engage with it or, certainly, we don’t engage with it until it’s too late to understand that as well as having a full, nourishing life, we can’t truly appreciate the magnitude of our earth-bound existence until we completely fall into the unfoldment of death.
I realise the subject divides opinion. Actually, it does more than that. It ensures, when it’s intoned, that most people I’ve encountered run a country mile — anything but death. It’s got word voodoo running through its veins — and it’s likely to annihilate you if you’re not careful.
Why is that?
Why is it that we’re so hostile to even the merest whiff of the word, let alone a full-blown, wisdom-infused discussion?
I do recognise that what I’m describing isn’t universal and indeed from my sketchy look into the abyss of death education etc., there does appear a slight shift in our appreciation that, yes, we’re mortal and that this gig has a beginning, middle and very definite end but we’re still a long way off from seeing death as anything other than something to avoid.
My shtick, if I’ve got one, is to be troubled out loud — to use my mouth when I’ve the opportunity or to write a few words here and there — particularly or more especially around our fascination of and subjugation by work. In short, we too easily define ourselves by our jobs (or is that job titles?) and never look up or not nearly enough to realise how much we’ve sacrificed in pursuit of what?
The mighty dollar?
It sure feels that way, and whilst I’m not in a position to judge anyone (I’ve got enough regrets to last ten lifetimes), nevertheless, having woken from my narcissistic torpor in March 2010 — more like I was shocked into an awakening — I realise that all my life has been devoted to work but I’ve never asked an important question, less still a beautiful one, to make sense of my circumstance. What then (you might ask) does death have to do with any of that — if that even has a name?
Not in the stoic, live every day as if it’s your last way of doing things but realising we’re all in the same f* boat — colleagues, clients, customers and suppliers — and if that’s not a bond of humility, kindness and love that could or rather should bring the whole thing to its knees, or at least make the workplace more human, then I don’t know what is.
It’s not just the workplace where I feel troubled enough to say something but rather it’s everywhere I look. Indeed, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t feel inclined to ruminate and/or opine on what’s missing and I seem to come back to death almost, as Jenkinson says, as if it’s a deity. Isn’t that odd? Actually, it’s more than that. In my case, it’s life-affirming and keeps me humble knowing that I’m being watched somewhere out there by some-thing that knows my days are limited and I’d better not piss them away but instead lay inside them and feel my way through the day not just by doing lots of things but realising that life is limited in time but also in so many other areas.
One last thing.
Death reminds me that whether I like it or not there will be a legacy, however shortlived, to my passing — be that today or in 30 years time. And whilst I continue to trip over my own shoelaces and make a bushel of mistakes, I also think I’ve begun to find my way again in being someone if not of the Elder ranks but someone with a scintilla of insight that might be useful to a few people down the road. Don’t worry, I’m not getting ahead of myself — death reminds me never to do that — but it does feel good at last to know that some of the mishaps, misfortune and misunderstandings of my early years might now count for more than my angst-ridder, former self ever thought possible.
Anyhow, as to the ‘D’ word, what do you think?
I’d love to know — and I mean that sincerely.