Recently, I read the amazing Anna Quindlen’s book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. In her book, she describes her observations about later life leaving a discussion about mortality for the last chapter. It got me thinking, especially since I am in my sixties.
Two months after having my first baby, I discovered a lump in my breast. For months, I was closely watched, and experienced my first mammogram at the age of 26. Everything turned out fine, but at the time, I ran out and bought life insurance to protect my husband and daughter. At that moment, I admitted to myself for the first time that I am just another mortal soul.
As we get older, it’s not uncommon to wonder how much time is left. I don’t think it is morbid. It is realistic. Are we aiming to ensure we get to live our best life? Take that special trip while we are still healthy? Does it mean time to just go fishing without a care in the world? For others, it may mean falling in love one last time, or for the first time. Some just want to sit under a palm tree and watch the world go by. How about the baby boomer who launches a whole new career?
I’ve given a lot of thought to time well spent. Living simply. Meaningful days with family and friends. Pausing and praying or meditating. Being grateful for what I have, and not expecting life to be perfect. Maybe just appreciating a small moment rather than expecting something spectacular to happen. What is spectacular is life itself, if we take a moment to notice.
What does enlightenment mean to you? I came home one day and asked my late husband what enlightenment meant to him. He quickly answered, “When I have a day that nothing goes wrong and I feel peaceful.” At the time, my response was, “That’s all???” I finally understand that he was on to something. I get it.
In realizing our own mortality, it makes us more conscious of living well. To make time count. To celebrate what we have rather than feeling bitter or entitled if we don’t have everything we want. But there is probably no other topic that we fear or dread.
How do people react to that fear? Buy that red sports car? Lose that last 25 lbs? Spend large sums of money? Engage in destructive behavior?
In the movie Moonstruck, Rose, Loretta’s mother discovers her husband is cheating on her. She asks her daughter’s boyfriend for insights into the situation.
Rose: Why do men chase women?
Johnny: Well, there’s a Bible story…God…God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn’t complete as a man without a woman.
Rose: (frustrated) But why would a man need more than one woman?
Johnny: I don’t know. Maybe because he fears death. (Rose looks up, eyes wide, suspicions confirmed)
Rose: That’s it! That’s the reason!
Johnny: I don’t know…
Rose: No! That’s it! Thank you! Thank you for answering my question! (www.imdb.com)
Later, Rose confronts her husband Cosmo on the situation.
Rose: I just want you to know no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.
Cosmo Castorini: Thank you, Rose. (www.imdb.com)
Cosmo gets what Rose is saying to him about facing his own mortality. Despite the humor incorporated in this story, this is a poignant moment.
Themes of mortality and death have been present in literature dating back to ancient Greece, and these themes continue to be present today. We sometimes hate to talk about it, but it also intrigues us.
The monarch butterfly travels thousands of miles from Canada through North America arriving in Mexico ever year. Unlike humans, they have a set destination in their journey. Before they ever morph into beautiful creatures with colorful wings, they go through four transformations.
Life is a continuous journey. We morph many times in a lifetime, experience things we never thought we would experience, grow in ways we never thought possible. We just don’t know when or where the finish line will be. To me, that means celebrating every day in some small but meaningful way. In understanding our own mortality, we understand the value and beauty of life itself.