I have too much death in my life of late. Remembrances as anniversaries pass, acquaintances and friends passing away in the prime of their youth, spouses and young children left to grieve and make sense of things that will never fully make sense… it is arduous. This life is arduous.
My friend Kelly says that pain is the great equalizer, the one thing with the power to bring us all together. I agree with that. I have always thought, and always tried to practice, moving toward pain, not away from it. That habit has made for some uncomfortable times, some uncomfortable years—my first two years of college were spent emotionally underwater as I tried to move toward my story, toward the pain of my father’s suicide—those times have hardened me, but they have also softened me to the pain of others (one of my favorite concepts is Ezekiel’s heart of stone and heart of flesh).
In short, I would not wish it on anyone, and yet I would wish it on everyone.
We run from our pain, we medicate it, we ignore it, we hide it, we distract ourselves from it… but it never goes away, because my friend Kelly is right—pain is universal.
And so, surrounded by all this death, I think about my own life, and, yes, your life too. I think about what I want my life to be like, what I want people to say about me. This isn’t about being morbid or fatalistic; it is about moving toward pain, and living a life without walls and all the other bullshit we parade out so we don’t have to be real in front of other people. Yes, it’s hard, and most of us are scared, and even those who aren’t have good reasons to be. But this isn’t a drill. This is life, the only one you have.
Have you ever thought about what you want people to say at your funeral?
The more I think about it, the more I realize that I want people to say, “He expected this.”
He expected this.
Almost no one expects to die on her last day. Almost no one gets in the car before their fatal accident thinking they have an hour to live. People who expect to die write books, and we all read them and think about how courageous they were (see “The Last Lecture” etc.).
But what I want to know is why I am not like that? Why are we not like that? Why do we marvel at it in others and not model it ourselves?
No. I’ve had enough of that. I want to live like I expect to die, and I want to do it in such a way that everyone else says, “That guy is crazy. He acts like he’s going to die tomorrow.”
But it is more than that. I want to live like I expect everyone else is going to die tomorrow, too. I want to say the things that will encourage; I want to demonstrate love both for those closest to me as well as those I do not even know; I want to give time, empathy, money, strength to as many people as I can; I want to heal people.
Most of all, though, I want to give people courage. I want to love them enough that they aren’t afraid anymore. Enough that they will remember it when they are afraid again.
So if I make your acquaintance, or I reach out to you for no reason, it is because I love you. It is because I want you to be courageous.
And it is because I expect both of us to die.