There is an absolutism about the length of our lives. No one knows how long but the consensus is that it would be long enough. A corollary to this is that the things that matter can be pursued at some stage in our lives, which again by design seems to be somewhere not in the immediate future.
I want to turn this premise on its head and start from the end.
Imagine today is the last day. Now the probability of that is low but not improbable. But scaring anyone is not the point. The idea is to spur the thought — so what should I be doing at this time?
Let me suggest some reactions that I have heard in the past from many of my friends and family. What would you be doing right now if this might be your last evening?
I would be talking with my parents. I will revisit my childhood with them. I would recall all that made us such a different family. I would just talk and listen.
I will pull out all the old music tapes, CDs and vinyl and play them in some random order. Each song would remind me of some past event, friends, parties, losses, happiness and pain. Yes, I would listen to the songs.
I will find the 3 girls who were my best buddies at school. We do keep in touch but rarely meet. I will take them along to this empty garage behind the local library where we hung around as teenagers. We will sit together till the curtain falls.
I will cry. Just cry. [Why?] For all what I could have done and didn’t.
I will sit by the sea. Listen to the waves and just let go of all that bothers me.
I would be so angry [why?] this is so unfair.
Interestingly, no one ever says they would be doing exactly what they do everyday today — on that day. It is not that what they are doing today has any less relevance to what matters to them. It is just that it is not what matters in the end. No one said — I would finish this report in time.
So what stops everyone from doing what they think matters to them and put it off for some imaginary day somewhere? The easy answer is that we believe we can get away with that. The more complicated answer is that we are in roles of our choice that have limited our ability to pursue what we really care for. An extension of this is — if I start doing what I care for, I would be seen as selfish, uncaring and escapist; no one will respect me.
If you cannot walk away from the robes you have donned nor can you stop thinking about what you wish you could do then there seems to be very little happy medium. Or is it?
I think there is a way. A happy medium.
Make a list. Put things down on a paper. Things you want to really do before wrapping up. Things to do if you had 1 day, 1 week, 1 month. That’s it. Don’t go out 3 years from now. That would be a wish list and not a heart list.
Let’s see how many items are on that list. 15? That’s too many; you are not making an honest list. Start again. 10? Think again. 5? Sound alright.
But here’s the trick. Drop all acts that you have categorized in 1 week or 1 month. Just look at the ones listed in the 1 day column. That is all that matters to you.
More likely than not, you will choose to:
Call your parents or drive out to have dinner with them tonight.
Go home, pull out all your old music, open the windows to let in some breeze and listen music till late in the evening.
Call your friend and apologise.
Call your friend and say — I love you.
Call a partner and say — I need my life back.
Cry for not making up with someone while there was still time.
Pick up a sheet of paper and write to someone you always wanted to reach out to but never could.
Bake your cake recipe that only you liked.
Rumi, the great 13th century mystic and spiritualist, spread the word of acceptance, seeing the true nature of life and imagining an all pervading core that engulfs all of us. Calling people around him to stop and understand the real purpose of this life, he wrote
“Sit, be still,
because you’re drunk
and we’re at the edge of the roof.”
Now sit down, take a deep breath and write down that one thing and tell me; What is it that you plan to do… Today.