Recently I said my last goodbye to someone I love. She’s not gone yet, but it was the last chance to see her before the cancer takes her away. The time spent with her, the rest of my family, and the hospice care workers demonstrated yet again what a difficult time we have with death and dying, and especially, talking about it. As the horizon in front of me keeps getting closer than the one behind me, I find myself confronted with the realities of death far too often. It something you will have to face too, if you haven’t already. And like all tragedy in life (and death), we must look for the lessons that reveal hidden blessings – and better prepare us to savor the moments of joy that we are blessed with.
One of the things country music does better than most genres is storytelling. One of my all-time favorite songs is Tim McGraw’s beautiful “Live Like You Were Dying.” (It was written by the songwriting team of Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman and won both single and song of the year in 2004.) In the song, the singer is questioning someone who received a terminal diagnosis what they did upon receiving the news. Their haunting reply was…
I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
And he said
Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying
As I sat with my loved one, she spoke of simple pleasures such as playing with a puppy, the places she always wanted to travel, and seeing one more NY Yankees game. It was the most touching, poignant conversation we’ve ever had together, and one I will treasure forever.
When I checked my phone back at the hotel, it turns out millions of people weren’t appreciating life quite the same way. They seem to believe the most important things in life are Twitter mobs, virtue signaling, and making snarky Facebook posts. I desperately wanted to jump through the Internet, grab them by their collars and scream, “Do you really think any of this shit is important?” Of all the gifts I’ve received in my life, perhaps the most important was getting shot and left for dead. (Or maybe getting diagnosed HIV positive in 2006.) Because these wake-up calls changed my philosophy, to one of living like I was dying.
May you live a long, joyful, and prosperous life. But however long you’ve got, please don’t miss the moments that matter.
Shut off your phone once in a while and be present with someone. Spend some quality time being present with yourself. And, for fuck’s sake, stop allowing yourself to be manipulated like a puppet to fuel the culture wars. At your funeral, no one is going to talk about your clever tweets. Or if they do, you wasted your life.
What song lyrics would you write if faced with your last goodbye?
Maybe it’s not skydiving but learning to paint. Maybe you don’t want to climb a mountain, but you always meant to write that book. You probably don’t have the desire to ride a raging bull but would relish another 2.7 seconds with someone you have loved and lost.
Please. Savor the moments.
Live a life that matters. To you, your loved one, and the world around you. Be ashamed to die before you’re certain you made the world even a little bit better, because you were here.
My family isn’t known for our ability to process emotions or show affection. I called my grandfather by his given name George and he would shake my hand when we met after a long absence. It took four years of therapy for me to even be able to say “I love you” to anyone. Imagine my immeasurable elation when I hugged my aunt, held her hand and told her “I love you” – and this woman who could never say I love you or even sign it on a card – squeezed my hand back with all the energy her emaciated body could muster and replied, “I love you so much!”
It was enough.
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