Dying Alive

Time is the leading cause of death. What the scientists say matters little – hot dogs might be a carcinogen and cutting down too many trees may eventually asphyxiate us all, but while we debate these things the clock remains relentless.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Enough years have passed in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of a number of people that I’ve loved and admired. We celebrate their time and achievements, feeling the ache that their leaving has left. In life their very presence was catalytic, moving those around them to spaces of the heart and soul that would have otherwise remained unexplored.

There are other wakes, though, that haunt me. These are the moments when we remember people who shrivelled into themselves long before their passing. A positive spin is put on everything, propriety bestowing a last dignity upon a life that could have been more.

The question is, more what? Was something missing? Or perhaps emptiness wasn’t the problem, and their souls were actually too cluttered? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there is no denying that some people’s eyes glaze over long before their plot is purchased.

To glean some answers I went to went to the field of wisdom known as Facebook, and asked some of you how our time on this spinning rock is best spent. Here is what you said, with a couple of my suggestions thrown in:

7¬†Essentials To Guarantee You’ll Be Alive When You Die

1. Be teachable. This is difficult when you presume to know everything. Too often we take our own opinions as facts, worship some fancy paper on the wall, or box ourselves in with our own notions of how the universe should be run and which direction the neighbour should be cutting his lawn. Being teachable allows us to walk through time without being overly sensitive and easily offended.

2. Smoke a cigar. Not literally, of course, unless you want you. The writer of Ecclesiastes said that “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes,” and counselled that it is best to not be over righteous or too wicked. That’s not to say that one of my goals each day is to be a little bit wicked, but sometimes it’s as though I can’t help myself. Knowing that my character and my lungs are not yet totally pure keeps me humble before my Creator.

3. Be authentic. One of my most annoying acquaintances is unapologetically Calvinistic, which I define as unteachable, dogmatic, unshaven and fundamentalist, with all the baggage that usually accompanies such labels. He, on the other hand, has big words which he uses to describe my liberal tendencies. One thing I grudgingly admire about him is his authenticity. He is a true believer. Unshakeable.

The most intriguing people in my life are ridiculously passionate. Some talk about theology; others champion the right of women to wear functional and pretty sporting attire. Whatever you do, do it from the heart.

4. Risk. Some mothers scold their youngsters with, “Just because your friends jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should too.” My mom, on the other hand, is usually the first to take the plunge. I can’t imagine a life without some risk. You can’t love without it. Steak is best served with it (at least a little pink, please). It isn’t an end in itself, mind you. Which brings us to number five.

5. Invest in Others. Authenticity, risk, humility, and balance are of very little benefit if they are employed to serve only yourself. You want people to weep tears of sadness instead of joy when you kick the bucket? Invest in them.

6. Practise dying. When we are placed in coffins it becomes clear that the value of our lives is measured in those who come to say goodbye. The problem is the extent of the sacrifice it took to get them all showing up on the same day. The good news is that we can train ourselves to die. Little choices every day add up, and when we choose others before ourselves, forgiveness before bitterness, and the difficult good over the expedient less-than we get better at dying.

7. Slow down. You. Are. Going. Too. Fast. How do I know this? There is a 95% chance that you came across this blog post via Facebook, which is what we do when we could just be sitting still or gently kissing someone.

Which are you good at? What did I leave out? Do you sense that you are truly alive? If not, are you missing something, or is it soul-clutter that’s getting in the way?

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