Life is routinely stressful. Whether it’s more macro issues like the threat of the Coronavirus and market jitters, or personal challenges — whether health, financial or work and family related, life can be difficult. Given that today is Ash Wednesday, many of us are reflecting on the truism of “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return” it seems like a good time to consider the brevity of life. Although that may seem like a downer, I think it is not at all depressing, and rather gives us the opportunity to focus the mind on what we are going to make of this life that we have here on earth.
I was talking to a friend a week or so ago. She has been dealing with some particularly difficult challenges of aging parents. People my age are universally in that boat, so we were commiserating. She confided that she found it tough to know how to respond when people (with all good intentions) ask her how her last visit home was- because it is pretty horrible. So when another well intentioned person recently said “So how was your vacation home?” she replied “well, no one is getting out alive!”. While that may have been an off-putting answer, it is true for all of us. None of us are getting out of this life alive. And that is actually just fine.
There have been many a science fiction plot line depicting the horrors of living forever. Whether we buy that it would be bad to be immortal on this earth, or not, is totally irrelevant, because we are all going to die. If you have a belief in afterlife, you spend time in this life preparing for it. If you don’t, then presumably you spend time in this life making the most of the time you have here. Either way, there is a task at hand and acting like we have all the time in eternity to do what is important or to be the people we want to be, isn’t helping us to get there. The urgency that comes from the awareness of our mortality is a good and positive catalyst. There is a reason that us Catholics have the expression “memento mori”- or remember death. Not to be a bummer, but to emphasize the point that we need to, as my good friend says, “make hay while the sun shines”!
It is also a call to be kind to ourselves and the people we encounter. Who knows what challenges that person who was snippy with you is going through. Who knows what challenge is next ahead for us? Choosing to live life gently, for ourselves and for others, gives everyone a break. In this high stress world, the benefit of the doubt is something we can all enjoy- and perhaps we can help one another to make the most of this life.