Nothing sparks contemplation for me quite as intensely as the news of someone’s death.
One of my best friends from childhood—the best man in my wedding, and my roommate for four years of college—lost his father.
I just found out.
And then my head goes to the place where my fingers need the keyboard.
No other life events affect me like death. The same must be true for many of you. The news—the shock and inflexible reality of it—forces you to rewire your brain in real-time, because what you know to be true is no longer true. And there’s no do-overs or rewind buttons. There’s just adjusting uncomfortably—sometimes very painfully—to the new world you didn’t want nor ask to travel to.
My friend’s dad was a doctor. A surgeon. A kind and funny and generous one.
In addition to welcoming me into his home for what seems like the majority of weekends throughout my senior year of high school, this man indirectly had a profound impact on my life.
He graduated from the same university I attended. So when his son and I were exploring college options, he was the one who drove us to campus one weekend to check it out and see a football game.
That trip cemented my friend and I’s decision to attend that school together and be roommates.
It was at that school where I switched majors so that I could make writing my career.
And it was at that school where I would meet the young woman who would later be my wife and son’s mother.
If Doc doesn’t invite me to visit his alma mater with his son that fall weekend in 1996, then almost everything about my life—right this second—could be radically different.
A favorite writer of mine starts his day by reading obituaries.
He believes that reading obituaries each morning helps him better appreciate life, focus on the present, and live each moment more fully.
There’s a simple brilliance in that.
Another favorite writer of mine will walk down the streets of New York City, imagining that every person he sees is terminally ill. That they will die in the coming hours.
He says that allows him to behave more kindly, more patiently, more empathetically, more thoughtfully to the hordes of strangers that are otherwise easy to de-humanize as they honk their horns, stand in your way while you’re in a hurry, and make daily life in the city more frustrating and less pleasant than it might otherwise be.
They do this because—one might argue—we are our best selves when we’re mindful of the fragility of this life.
We are not promised tomorrow.
How would we treat our spouses, our extended family, our friends, our children? How would we treat strangers?
If we knew they were going to die?
If we knew we were going to die?
It’s funny to me—not Ha-ha funny—that they are going to die. That I’m going to die.
The conditions are ALREADY in place for me to show up and be my best self to others. In that same way I naturally feel right now upon learning the news of Doc’s passing.
We shouldn’t be sad or morose or uncomfortably morbid all of the time. That doesn’t seem useful.
But we should be mindful. We should always be mindful of what may be.
Our time is precious.
Who deserves our forgiveness? Our patience? Our compassion? Our attention? Our love?
There’s a higher path we can choose to walk. I’m often operating several levels beneath it.
But now—right now—I feel how much I want to be up there.
And even if I—predictably—fail to stay up there as I cycle back into routine and normalcy and acting as if my life and my things are the center of the universe and nothing else is happening out there, it can’t hurt to spend right now reminding myself how laughably untrue that is.
That life is happening in other places and it matters.
That other people are fighting their own battles, and they’re hard, and what can I do to help them fight them?
That no matter what has happened in the past, between any of us and all of the people we know, there’s a farewell coming. One way or another, there’s a Goodbye up ahead.
Maybe we could make it a good one.