In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act. —George Orwell
I had a conversation early this morning, before walking the dog, with a friend who is sitting with his father, waiting for him to die. I’ve sat in that chair, where there’s nothing one can do to bring them back or make their exit from this plane of existence more comfortable. Truth is, we’re all going to be there. If we’re not in the chair holding the hand of a parent, we’re the one in the bed.
I teased elsewhere this morning that I looked in the mirror and realized that I’m too old and too ugly to die young and leave a good-looking corpse. Mirrors force us to face truth in ways we don’t especially enjoy. Truth is often brutal. Perhaps that’s why we tend to avoid it so much. Try as we may, though, truth catches up with us sooner or later.
An article came across my desk recently, 20 Brutal Truths About Life No One Wants to Admit. While some of the points are a bit redundant (that happens when an editor insists that lists be in conveniently round numbers), the truths he mentions are valid for all of us. We don’t like acknowledging them, to be sure, but if we’re going to get through life with any level of contentedness, we have to deal with things we don’t like.
There’s No Escaping Death
You’re going to die. Your friends are going to die. Everything and everyone around you is going to die. Furthermore, no one controls when that might happen. As much as I like to say I’m going to live long enough to be a pain in the ass to my grandchildren, the truth is I don’t control when I’m going to die. None of us do. I could just as easily step out the back door and be taken out by a random rabid owl. While that scenario isn’t exactly likely, there are far too many things over which we have no control that could cause us to die suddenly and unexpectedly. An unknown space object could come crashing to the earth. Volcanoes could suddenly swallow North America. North Korea.
We don’t deal with the thought of mortality well and that needs to change. Realize that all those awards, the size of your bank account, all those accomplishments don’t mean a damn thing when you’re lying on your death bed. That’s assuming you even get a death bed. There are myriad paths to fatality where you’re alive one moment and not the next. We might think we’re going to die of cancer then get hit by a bus on our way to the clinic.
A lot of people talk about leaving a legacy. A lot of that talk is horseshit. Just because your name is on a half-dozen buildings doesn’t mean anyone actually cares about who you were or that your goals and ideals live on. Charities happily take your money and then, once you’re dead, do what they damn well please with it. If you want your money to do something, do it now.
Do Something That Actually Matters
Hard truth: accumulating wealth doesn’t matter. You don’t take it with you and you can’t really control what happens to it when you’re gone. The best you can hope to do is guide how your money is spent and even that is dubious. Even giving your money away isn’t nearly as impactful as charities like to make you believe. If you really want to make a difference: donate your time. Being hands on with a cause that is important makes much more difference than just giving money.
What we do with our lives, how we spend those waking moments, are what lead us to happiness and fulfillment. Searching for happiness itself is a fruitless effort; you won’t just find it sitting in a cafe somewhere waiting for you . Happiness happens when you do things. Good things. Things that help other people. Things that make a difference to the planet.
Don’t over think everything you do. You can’t be perfect nor can you please everyone. Don’t waste your time telling other people what to do, get in there and do it yourself and let everyone else follow if they want. It is much more important that you set a good example than trying to lead everyone else from the sidelines. If you want to leave a legacy, make it one of achieving what no one thought you could achieve.
Since any one of us could croak at any minute, that makes every moment in which you’re not dying all the more important. That means, truth be told, you need to set some priorities and start managing the hell out of your life. Love someone? Don’t just tell them, show them. Spend time with the people who mean the most to you. Show them you care. I promise, when they’re lying in a bed dependent upon constant IVs and other assistance in order to exist, it doesn’t matter how fucking busy you thought you were or how important you thought you were being. Nothing matters more than the time you spend with the people you love.
The truth of our mortality also dictates that if you want to do something you’d best get busy doing it now. Don’t wait to ask for permission if you don’t need to. Don’t wait until the timing is more convenient because that never happens. Timing is never convenient. So, if you want to start a family, take the steps necessary to start a family. If you want to learn a language, start talking. If you want to travel, start walking.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is that we sit back and let life happen to us. We are being lazy and stupid when we do that. No one is going to show up at the front door and just hand you a bundle of cash. No one is going to walk up to you on the street and just offer you a dream job. We have to make life happen for ourselves. Otherwise, we look up one day and realize we’re 70 years old and all we’ve done with our lives is wait.
Take It From Someone Who Failed
At the end of the article I mentioned earlier is a brief video conversation with Bill Bartman. Bill understands the truth about how nasty and ugly and terribly inconvenient things can be. He has had it all and lost every last bit of it. He understands, though, that we don’t let failure stop us from taking risks, living life, and getting things done. So, I’ll leave you with that video. It’s only five and a half minutes, so take the time to watch. Then go. Do. Live.