One of my ex-boyfriends used to wake in terror in the middle of the night.
He’d bolt from the bed gasping for air, and I’d find him balled up mid panic attack in some corner of the house.
It was always the same thing that got him…
The fact that one day, we were going to die.
This fascinated me because it never prompted him to live his life any differently. Morning would always roll around, and he’d go right back to his daily routines. School. Work. Homework. Watching shows on the couch or having dinner with me. And he definitely never wanted to talk about what had happened, let alone why.
But that wasn’t the only thing that seemed curious to me… it was also that he never thought about death besides those moments of terror in the middle of the night.
I thought about death all the time.
Honestly, I still do.
It’s not an exaggeration to say I think about it at least once every day.
Death has always been loud and present to me, though I couldn’t tell you why. We lost a grandfather when I was eight years old and a great grandfather sometime after that. And besides the time our neighbor hit our dog with his truck (telling us about it after they buried her), I didn’t experience much death until my loss.
Perhaps it was the fact that I was suicidal as a teen, but mostly, I just always existed with a certain sense of urgency.
An inner sense of worry that I was running out of time. An awareness that every time I left the house, I might not come home. It doesn’t rule my life or bring me fear in any particular situations; it’s just a knowing that’s always there.
One day, I’m going to die.
I hope it’s one day 60 years down the line, but I have no way of knowing.
Personally, this awareness has served me well. It makes me someone who takes very little for granted because I know that nothing is. There’s no given. No promised lifespan even for the healthiest of humans. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow or ten years down the line. There’s only today and the hope for tomorrow.
So, I plan my life and where I want to be in one, five, ten years.
And I live each day with the knowledge it could be my last.
It’s a balance, to be sure.
To be here now, making the most of each day without overly pressuring myself to make every single moment the best moment there could be. To give my all to what’s most important to me without taking away from what needs tending for the long haul (daily life, paying bills, being healthy, etc.). To permit myself to “waste” time for as little or as long as I need because I’m tired without beating myself up for not carpe diem-ing each and every hour.
And still, remembering the truth that we’re going to die someday is one of the most potent awarenesses we can hold.
It’s not about fear or anxiety.
It’s about remembering that we have one life.
What’s most important to you in this life? What are the things you’ll feel the most pride for having accomplished when your time comes? For some, that’s building beautiful relationships and having a family. For others, it’s doing their purpose work and having an impact. And, for many, it’s a combination of both.
What’s most important to you?
And what are you doing to prioritize that right now?