“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” Vladimir Nabokov
I am writing this on the morning of my 61st birthday. As I have done for nearly two decades, I began my day with 30 minutes of meditation. As is common in many Eastern cultures, I often incorporate contemplation of my death into my meditation.
I know, I know, the thought of thinking about your own death gives you the heebie-jeebies. It’s downright morbid. Really, who wants to face the thought that someday, our binge-watching, selfie-obsessed existence will go poof, without any chance of a reboot. Plus, the Super Bowl is only two weeks away. Oh, and we can’t forget the final season of Game of Thrones in April. There’s just not enough time to think about something as depressing as that death thing.
But here’s the reality: contemplating your death, like eliminating gluten from your diet or disconnecting cable news networks, is actually a healthy and life-affirming practice. 20th-century psychologist Irvin Yalom said:
“Virtually every great thinker. . . has thought deeply and written about death, and many have concluded that death is inextricably a part of life and that lifelong consideration of death enriches rather than impoverishes life.”
I, myself, am a mediocre thinker, at best. But I will say that contemplating that my time is limited has been, as Yalom suggests, enriching. I look around my house and realize that in 50 years, someone who has never heard of me will inhabit it. All of the belongings, all of the material goods we cherish and work so hard to accumulate, will be gone. This exercise, instead of being morbid, is actually freeing because it helps me appreciate that life can’t be defined by external factors such as status or possessions (although, I really do like the 64-inch Smart TV Kate bought when we moved into the house that someone else will own in 50 years).
Of course, the point is, we’re always striving for some great thing in the future that will possibly give meaning to our life (like a better mattress. And of course, the final season of Game of Thrones). And, with this focus on the future, we lose track of what we have now, at this moment.
I’m grateful for what I have now, today, on my 61st birthday. I’m grateful for my family and my friends. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful to have two dogs who are not housebroken. I’m grateful for work that I find challenging and rewarding. And, I’m grateful to live in interesting times. Thanks to those of you who sent birthday wishes.