We shouldn’t ignore our mortality

Life is finite — take a moment to ask yourself if you are living well, writes Jan Aitken. PHOTO:...
Life is finite — take a moment to ask yourself if you are living well, writes Jan Aitken. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
It’s been a memorable winter, so far. Not so much for the stunning weather or remarkable achievements I’ve notched up, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

For me it’s been memorable because of three "celebrations" centred around the various stages of life. All have provoked questions and given me reason to reflect and contemplate.

First there was a 100th birthday to attend. What a fabulous occasion. The marking of 100 full years, well lived. It was an afternoon filled with joy, fun and fond memories.

I sat with a friend pondering who we’d invite to our own 100th birthdays we both chuckled that it might be a little different from the party we were attending, what with both of us being introverts. However, the occasion stirred up a lot of questions. "What do we want to do between now and 100?" "Who in our circles would still be around?" "How old will we be when we, well, you know ... pop our clogs, pass over, shuffle our mortal coils?"

The second commemoration was for a friend, nowhere near 100, who died way earlier than she should have. Again, we celebrated a full life, well lived. We laughed and cried and acknowledged the deep sense of loss felt by whanau and friends.

We’d had time to say the things we wanted to say to each other before she died and I’m grateful for that. But I’m mightily hacked off that her time was cut short, that there were still so many things she wanted to do, adventures to have with her husband, her family and friends.

Again, more questions ... "If I only had x weeks left, what would I do?", "What is my life really about?", "Have I said what I’ve wanted to say to people?", "What’s this all for?".

The third event was at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, the celebration of a new life. Hope, potential, joy. The excitement of a new generation and all of the possibilities that little life holds.

More questions: "What will they grow up to be?", "What will their favourite colour be?" "Will they like reading, sport, art?", "What sort of planet are we leaving for our following generations?"

Life and death — and everything in between — this winter has had me pondering my own mortality. I’m at that age where I’ve probably passed the halfway mark, but by how much I don’t know. While I don’t want to become obsessed with death, I don’t think it’s very smart to avoid facing it either. Our relationship with our finite nature is something we shouldn’t ignore. If we want to live fully, we must find a way to live between the extremes of fearing death and ignoring it entirely.

When we’re young, it’s so easy to be oblivious to death. It’s not something that happens to us. More often than not, we delude ourselves with the unconscious belief that we’re invincible, that nothing bad can happen to us, that we have time ...

Thinking we have time turns life into something we take for granted. We get up in the morning, embark on our day and then flop into bed at night without acknowledging what a miracle it is that we have life or what we have in a day to be grateful for. We can do the same thing with our loved ones a lot of the time, take them for granted, think we have all the time in the world.

In order to live well, we must understand that we will die, yet not let that fact take away from the present. There’s a delicate balance between the two. As Aristotle might put it, a middle way. When we appreciate the shortness of life, and the inevitable end of it, we can better appreciate life itself and strike the balance.

In a sense, the acceptance of our own mortality, and keeping it in our awareness as we continue to live, lights a veritable fire under our asses, because no matter how we live there is one iron-clad guarantee: we’re not getting out of this alive.

Perhaps we should not fear death as much as the life not well lived. We all will die, that is a certainty, but what isn’t certain is that we will all live well. So let’s focus on that and think about "how" we live rather than "how long" we’ll live. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, it’s the depth of living ... not the length of living.

Are you living well? What do you need to do to be your best, live your best? What values do you want to live to? How do you want to celebrate your 100th birthday?

Winter’s a natural time to take stock, rethink your plan and start to put in place the tweaks needed to get you living well.

I don’t know where this quote comes from, but I like it, "Live deeply. Live fully. Live gratefully. Love and be loved. Life is something we must seize — for we must give it back either way."

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