Recently, my person shared with me something someone else had said to him, as a way of justifying her inappropriate behavior. I have thought a lot about this excuse, and it very well may be the excuse to end all excuses, for it is both absurd and brilliant. She simply stated, When you’re in the coffin, it doesn’t matter.
Having not yet taken up residency in a coffin, I cannot say what does or does not matter in that particular moment. I can say what mattered to me in the three distinct moments when I was confronted with death, my own death. These three moments all have occurred under very different circumstances, yet they were similar. The common thread was that I believed that I would die, not years down the road, but now or in the near future. There were two things that they shared in common, as well.
The first time was during the summer of 2011 when I was in the throes of a bout of depression and anxiety that left me physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. I had been in counseling again for several months, and for every step I took forward, I felt like I took at least a dozen back. The bad days far outweighed the good days until one day, I began to entertain death as a viable option for ridding myself of the internal pain. It was an extreme, but effective, option at the time. The fleeting thoughts of wanting the pain to end morphed into a concrete plan of how to put that plan into action. It was a perfect plan, yet when faced with the decision to carry on or carry it out, I opted for the former and removed the latter as an option.
The second time when death appeared to be in the near offing was on October 20, 2015, when I heard one sentence that forever changed my life. I am so sorry. You have breast cancer. The beginning of my stint in this stupid club came at the same time that one of my dear friends was coming to an end of her 4 year battle with breast cancer and when another wonderful friend was dealing with the recurrence of lymphoma. For all of the medical advances and ribbons being displayed, once you hear you have cancer and/or watch someone you love go through it, death enters the picture and does not leave. Ever.
The third time occurred on January 28,2017, when I thought I truly would die alone in my car, as I experienced symptoms mimicking a heart attack. As I drove myself to the hospital, which was not one of the best decisions I have made, to say the least, I prayed that my death would be as quick and painless as possible. I uttered this prayer and many others, not because I wanted to die, but because I honestly felt like I would on that gorgeous winter afternoon.
Two things that all three of these situations have in common is that I didn’t die, obviously, and that in each of those moments, I had similar thoughts. I thought of my daughters, my family, and close friends and how much I loved them and did not want to leave them yet. The second pervasive thought was how much more in life I wanted to do, and I felt immensely sad at not seeing all of my dreams come to fruition. I did not think about my job, past hurts or regrets, bills, politics, my flaws, my list of things to do, or anything else that sometimes hijacks my thoughts and feelings and derails my intentions and plans. When I do find myself in a coffin, I will venture a guess that I still will not be thinking of anything other than my loved ones and my cherished dreams.
So, is the person who said, When you’re in the coffin, it doesn’t matter, right? Yes and no. Yes, at the moment of your death, nothing else really matters. Your past, present, and future no longer exist and neither do you. What comes next has been debated for as long as humans have existed, and no matter what any of us believe happens when we cease to live, the mystery will not be solved definitively until we die.
The answer is also no, because on our way to the grave, we do not exist in a vacuum. I never took physics, but I do know that for every action there is a reaction. Every single thought we form, every word we utter, every feeling we experience, and every action we take causes some sort of reaction in the universe. Some reactions are seemingly insignificant or go unnoticed, while others are easily recognizable and very significant. Everything we do on the way to the grave does matter, to some extent. If it didn’t, then, what would be the point of living in the first place?!
The challenge is to both discover what truly matters to you and how to contribute to what really matters to the world at large, in order to make this life as meaningful as possible, and to balance what matters with the responsibilities and necessities of life, like working, paying bills, and doing household chores. Every day offers us the opportunity to make these discoveries and to strike this balance, and we just have to remember that and take the necessary action. For, one day, we will no longer have those opportunities, and I hope that we all can end this life with the love of friends and family, fulfilled dreams, and a legacy of making this world a better place for at least one other person. The inevitability of death does not excuse us from doing what is right, kind, or necessary. When you are in the coffin, it is too late, so, no more excuses. We matter, and what we do matters.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story