In recent years I’ve learned quite a bit about life from those who have passed in their prime.
It started when I purchased The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.
Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA enjoying a wonderful life with a wife he loved, children he adored, and a job he was quite happy. But pancreatic cancer struck the man and, knowing he did not have a lifetime left, squeezed every bit of life out of his remaining days.
In addition to living, he wrote his thoughts down for his students, his family, and for all who read it to learn from the wisdom gained from staring death in the face.
The book touched me to the core; it made me think, cry, challenge my complacency, and embrace love even more passionately than I had previously. I tried to take mental notes and internalize them. Sadly, many of the things I learned I have forgotten.
In the last few weeks I have been reading about the late NASCAR star Tim Richmond.
Richmond was a bright star who burned out far too early, succumbing to AIDS in a time when that held a stigma so strong and devastating that Richmond lived a lie for the remainder of his days denying he had the dreaded disease.
Richmond lived boldly and out loud, breathing life in and surrounding himself with fun at every turn. His lifestyle betrayed him in the end, but he still realized what was most important in life were the people he loved and being true to himself.
And finally last year’s loss of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon struck a nerve. Wheldon was a terrifically handsome, charismatic, and electric young man. Father, husband, racecar driver and so very vital, tackling life head on and seemingly fearing nothing, Wheldon seemed to be invincible. His passion for racing ultimately led to his demise in a freak accident at the season closing race in October 2011 at Las Vegas.
Wheldon left behind a pretty wife who loved him, two young boys who will never truly know their father, and a grieving fandom who will never forget their hero.
These men are famed for their deaths. Because we have heard of them and celebrated their accomplishments in life because they died in a public way we look to them as a beacon for understanding our own journey to death.
Because by simply living we are dying. The Circle of Life is constantly in effect. And it takes the exacting and stark wisdom of those knowing death is near to jar us into our own terminal reality.
I’m not suggesting we should dwell on our own inevitable deaths. But, for me anyway, I need to be reminded of how to prioritize lest I waste valuable time and energy of things that, in the grand scheme of things, just don’t matter.
I stress out… a lot. No matter how many Simple Joys I record, how many smiles I illuminate or laughter I sprinkle, I still get wrapped up in minutia that robs me of happiness and peace.
I let my children’s antics steal my sanity and serenity. I spend far too much time still worrying about what others think of me instead of concentrating on making memories that will outlast my lifetime.
For all we have is the here and now. Nobody knows when cancer, AIDS, or an accident will strike. Nobody can predict a 90 year lifespan or a twenty-five year one. We have today to grab our dreams, our loved ones, and our passions and follow them relentlessly.
Apparently I need reminders periodically, but I’m trying to retain these messages and live accordingly.
I hope this gentle reminder inspires you to grab what you want most out of live daily.
As I learned from the numerous times I have seen and heard the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson, there is “No Day But Today”.