Without apology, I am dispatching another offering focused on aging and death. My father always said that there were only two inevitabilities in life; death and taxes. I am a witness to both. And to the truth of his simple prediction. As I ponder the reality of being in my final quarter, the thought of death doesn’t frighten me. It’s the risk that my body could survive beyond my will to live that distresses me. And that there will be still one more tax return after I die.
In a fantasy world where I have control over all life events and my entire body, I would orchestrate a perfect symphony of closure. My health span, wealth span and life span would expire painlessly and simultaneously. I would take my last breath fully and comfortably. With a cogent brain, in a beautiful room overlooking my valley. The fields would be squares of white snow, bordered by evergreens. A quilted winter scape laid out before me. The sky would be a shade of blue that defies all labels. Impossible to reproduce, except in my mind’s eye so that I could take it with me. I would choose this time of year to move in with the angels so that I would have one last autumn and winter. And avoid spring.
The longer I live and the deeper I excavate what I have learned thus far, the greater my certainty is that efforts to control people, places, the weather and my hair, are futile. And hours spent worrying about the future and ruminating about the past are wasted. And time spent in the mental fog of what-ifs, if onlys, and should-haves are of no value. Because we are only afforded the certainty of the present moment.
A good friend and writing colleague of mine wears a medallion on a silver chain around his neck. I noticed it as I sat down and peeled off my mask to sip coffee with him. Arriving early, I took the chair facing the blue-green water of the bay. It was windy and the frothy white tips of the waves playing with each other brought me a smile and a sense of calm. I then noticed that I hadn’t been noticing. I hadn’t noticed the beauty of the bay as I drove along the ribbon of highway beside it. I hadn’t noticed that the trees were finally giving us the gifts of red, orange and gold leaves. I hadn’t noticed the mid-week quiet in our community. Always a blessing that follows the chaos of weekends. I had been in my head, unplugged, and on auto-pilot.
Skipping over perfunctory niceties that usually accompany a greeting, when he asked how I was, I responded that I’m noticing that I’m not noticing. If you asked me how the traffic was, what route I took, and if there was much colour along the way, I couldn’t tell you. I was thinking about the shoes I didn’t buy, whether we needed black beans, and what I would say to Rogers when I made the annual complaint call.
Fingering his medallion, he read it out to me. Memento Mori. I had noticed that he signed his correspondence with this Latin phrase, followed by Carpe Diem. The translation; Remember that you have to die. Seize the moment. Rather than landing with the thud of morbidity and doom, I felt a ripple of calm acceptance. The admonition of the certainty of demise nudged me into the present. Into noticing. Into a state of appreciation. For the creamy coffee, the chill in the air, the warmth of my shawl, and the company of a fellow seeker. For my health, my energy, my family, my friends. For acknowledging that right there, right then, the current thin slice of experience was the only surety in my life. And it was delightful.
Always busy and in a hurry, I own and have skimmed several best sellers on the notion of being present. On the value of accepting the NOW as the only sure thing. They didn’t change me. They didn’t change my priorities. They didn’t change how I behaved in the world. Memento Mori, as a gentle remembrance of the fragility of life, of the gifts of the simple and banal, and of the delusion of control, shifted me. At least in that moment. So that I know that it is possible. And lovely.
Happy Thanksgiving. Carpe Diem.
At least, that is my experience.