The Opposite of Your Last Day

Image shows the title of the article overlayed on a photo of a person looking out a dark tunnel.

Image shows the title of the article overlayed on a photo of a person looking out a dark tunnel.

I've been thinking about many things this month, figuring out what I want to write about, and doing plenty of pre-writing. And then my dad died. He'd been declining for a while but the actual end took us all by surprise. Needless to say, this has thrown my writing process for a loop. But I'm also feeling moved to write something even though I could give myself a pass. There's something about grief that offers a unique vantage point and that is inherently fleeting. I'm interested in capturing my current view. So here it goes:

There's the day to day "busy work" of life, and then there are the big inescapable truths of life: we exist, we do this human thing, and then at some point we don't exist any more. Looked at this way, it all seems inherently meaningless. But it's definitely not meaningful to suffer or cause more suffering of others. Looking at it this way, we have a finite amount of time to try and make existence a little less about suffering for ourselves and others.

We have a precious, finite amount of time in the physical body that we find ourselves in right now, but I've never been one to follow the "live every day as if it were your last" adage. I'm a planner. I get excited about the future and investing today in something that won't germinate until later. If you truly lived every day as if it were your last, you would never plant seeds, because you wouldn't expect to see them bloom. To me getting to see the blooms of seeds planted in season's past is one of life's great joys.

I think what that adage is trying to get at is how important it is to be purposeful with your time. One of our greatest gifts and deepest vexations is discovering and understanding our own purpose. And the thing about any purposeful work is that it comes with a lot of "busy work" and a lot of side-quests. The truth about the "side-quests" of life is that it's in those that we deepen our understanding of human existence and build skills that we can't even conceive tie into our purpose, but then they do. Life is winding and we don't always know where we're going or how we're going to get there. ....We can hold fast to our internal compass of purpose.

I'm not sure if it's a side-quest or a main quest, but I spoke at my dad's service. My dad and I had a tenuous relationship at best. If you'd asked me a year ago, I probably would have denied the capacity to say anything helpful about my dad upon his death. It turns out "past me" was wrong. It was easy to find heartfelt things to say. It was in part thanks to the Pure Potentials training I've been participating in, even though "eulogy writing" was far from any part of the curriculum. And to bring it full circle, as I conclude the training with Pure Potentials, I'm finding myself more confident than ever in my public speaking skills. In large part because of the experience of speaking in front of a room while grieving. It will be an experience I will rely on to shake the stage fright many times in the future.

In my grief I've been struck by noticing how the beginning and the end don't come on any kind of a schedule. Sometimes you get warning, sometimes you don't. This is not only the opposite of how my planning mind likes to work, it's the dead opposite of how capitalism and commerce wants the world to work. I don't think either is "wrong" though; they're just both true and need to be acknowledged as such.

As I'm returning to work, I'm navigating this dichotomy between the planned and the un-plannable. But I'm confident that I am doing my part to reduce suffering by living my purpose. If you're concerned you're not living your purpose, that's what I'm here to help with.