“Death cancels everything but truth.” – William Hazlitt
Wedding or funeral—which would we rather attend?
That’s an easy one, right?
Something else Solomon said was that it’s better to be at a funeral than a wedding.
Why? Three reasons (and none of them are jokes about marriage, like the either/or question: Are you married or happy?). First, everyone dies—it’s when, not if. Second, it’s wise to admit the first reason and foolishness to laugh when it’s time to mourn. And third, the outcome of honest mourning will lead to a better way of living.
Instead of ignoring death, we’re to become comfortable with it. With what death means.
Death means we’re alive.
To paraphrase Descartes, We die therefore we’re alive.
But there’s a difference between death and dying. Dying is often horrible and painful and harmful to those around—its’ agonizing and impoverishing. While death is closure.
It’s the denial of death that’s debilitating. It’s a form of fear that accentuates itself – it feeds off itself. Avoiding death reinforces the fearfulness of death. When we think about happy things to crowd out the sadness of death those happy thoughts become linked with the refusal of death.
And when we refuse death we’re refusing the opportunity to live.
Refusing death is like attempting to stop time. That’s how we lose life.
We lose life by disregarding the experience of time.
But holding death loosely—a loved one’s or our own inevitably—seems to trivialize the value of life. So we grasp at everything and anything representing life, whether personally in extreme emotional or physical stimulation or vague, symbolic representations we associate with life. Birth. Youth. Energy and vitality. We fear loss.
And depression. We fear depression.
According to common wisdom the ‘red flag’ of depression is thoughts of death. Actually the refusal of death is leads us to the either/or of ignorance or suicide, literally, when taking one’s own life is the honest option of the two. It’s a new martyrdom.
Suicide is a resignation to the future being worse than the past, often because of the past. And the present is regarded as worse than what is unchangeably the future.
But is the future inevitable?
The most unfortunate determinism of life is the inevitable experience of abuse (an extreme illustration of the ordinary). Ironically and predictably nine-out-of-ten who experience some form of abuse in childhood reproduce abusive behaviors in adulthood. The abused continue in abuse.
It’s not time for the inevitable; it’s time to question it.
The past isn’t altered but it’s open to a different reading. Most of what has happened, happens to us. Accidents of birth—when, to whom and in what circumstances; female, male, black, white, brown; rich, poor. We don’t choose these things. That’s the truer truth.
We didn’t choose these things, and we can’t change these things.
Why, then, is guilt our typical response to things unchangeable? Guilt is supposed to show humility, but this humility for being born a human isn’t humility. It’s
The alternative? Living without apology.
Is there another way to tell our story? Another way to account for what’s happened to us and what we’ve done with our lives?
Narrating our story differently, narrating our tales with an eye on what’s next, is a good practice. Instead of an unchangeable past leading to an unalterable future we can find an alternative.
This is our alternative. It’s time to become better interpreters of our own life, and of time.
By its very nature the moment, this moment, is transient. It cannot be grasped. It always dances between past and what’s next. It’s timeless.
And it’s also what’s next. It’s not the future, it’s what’s next.
There is no simple, direct, uninterrupted line between past, present and future. Calling that’s next ‘the future’ gives it a singular, closed and inevitable meaning. It cannot be changed. The only human response becomes resignation to it, and passive aggressiveness as a lifestyle.
An unchangeable past leads to regret (when married to guilt) but an unchangeable future invites worry and inevitable failure.
It’s time, not simply to change the future, live in the moment, or even accept the past.
There is an alternative. There is an option.
It’s time for the truer truth.