One man quipped: "It's not that I'm afraid of dying. It's just that I've been alive for as long as I can remember, and I'm kind of set in my ways."
Some people ARE afraid of dying. Others are not concerned about their death ... but they worry about how they're going to get there. Will illness linger? Or will it be sudden?
I can't even guess how or when I might die, but knowing my life will end has actually helped me to live more passionately. I think others have discovered the same phenomenon.
Journalists Bill and Judith Moyers documented death and dying in the U.S. They discovered that many terminal patients they interviewed actually began to live with joy and passion only after they learned they were dying. Like one man said, "If you are told you will never see spring again, and you live to see spring, spring takes on a whole new life." ("Modern Maturity," Sept. /Oct. 2000)
Psychologist Abraham Maslow had a similar experience. After his first heart attack he realized that his remaining days on earth were short. He wrote about it to a friend: "My river never seemed so beautiful (Maslow lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the Charles River). The confrontation with death -- and reprieve from it -- makes everything look so precious, so sacred, so beautiful and I feel more strongly than ever the impulse to love it, to embrace it, and to let myself be overwhelmed by it...."
Can you imagine feeling that way? He ends with this remarkable statement: "Death and its ever present possibility makes love, passionate love, more possible. I wonder if we could love passionately, if ecstasy would be possible at all, if we knew we'd never die."
Why wait until we are told by a doctor that we may not have much time to live. Aren’t we all terminal? We became so at birth. And that is a wonderful thing to know. For strange as it may seem, knowing life is all too short can help us to live ... beautifully, meaningfully, passionately.
It is a matter of embracing every day as if it were your last. Saying what needs to be said today. Making plans to do today what you’ve been putting off. And taking some time maybe just to do nothing but appreciate life.
Like Emily says in Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town”: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?” I hope that I can say, “Yes, at least a few times, I think I really did.”
-- Steve Goodier