Friday, September 19, 2008

Interview about Studying Death

This is a great interview with Dr. Sam Parnia, who is embarking on a 3 year study about the experience of dying-,8599,1842627,00.html?cnn=yes

Hmmm, Time Magazine? I wonder if they planned that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Strange Science of Sleep

I wonder how many of Americans’ day to day decisions and rituals can be traced back to the fact that they are going to die someday. I focus on Americans because, as one, I feel I can only comment on the collective psyche that I know best. Certainly, there are overt behaviors such as buying life insurance or a grave site that can only be traced back to a person preparing for their own death. But there are more subtle nods such as parents teaching their children as much as possible before they “leave the nest”; this is to their benefit but also is the parent acknowledging that they won’t be around forever to act as their teacher. It occurred to me recently that the rituals we have around sleeping deftly mirror some of the rituals we’ve created around dying. There is the nightly preparation of the body as we brush, wash, put on different clothes just meant for sleeping, apply ointments or lotions only used during the night, and arrange our bodies in certain positions. Clearly these come to resemble the tasks of an undertaker. We generally make the room darker and cooler than we do during the day. Predictably, there are accoutrements of medicines, sleep aids, and water stocked next to our bed, almost like the arbitrary offerings of an altar. Of course, the sleeping itself is the closest mimicry of death for all of us as we lay prone and close our eyes and slip into unconsciousness. While we sleep, we can be wholly unaware of the activities around us and there are always some. Clocks tick, air conditioning or heating units click on, bugs scurry, car headlights come through our shades. We don’t wake for each of these, we spend hours unconscious to it all and accept when we wake that nothing abnormal happened. But sleeping is a strange ritual unto itself as we spend roughly one third of our lives unconscious and cocooned in revitalization. We repeatedly revitalize these bodies that will ultimately give out. But we sleep, and we practice the feeling, we hope we wake, but get closer to death with each passing night.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How True

"Nothing less than 1,000 years old can have had any impact on the most basic human condition." Jim P.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fun with Headstones!

So, for a break from the deeply philosophical, I thought I'd have some fun with headstones. Remember, as part of preparing, you may want to decide ahead of time what you'd like your epitaph to read. And I don't see why it always has to be so standard and stuffy. Why can't the headstone reflect the true nature of the person. If you had a great sense of humor in life, why not demonstrate that to all those visiting the cemetery? For instance-

You Might Try-

What About?-

Or the Ever Popular-

And Last But Not Least-

Monday, July 7, 2008

How to Get Started

As with any shift in thinking, which a person hopes will lead to different, more productive behavior, the first step in framing your life in deference to your passing can be a small step. If you review the entry below entitled, Measuring Time, you might start by deciding for yourself what you consider the “past” and the implications for your future. At the very least, grappling with this question might help you deal with the discomfort around the topic of your dying. Reading some of the studies by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross can be very enlightening. Try making a list of what you consider to be your accomplishments to date and those you still hope to accomplish. Researching other cultures’ attitudes about death and how they deal with their dead is another route in. Simply spending some of your time trying to envision how and when you might die is more valuable than any television show and many of the other of life’s activities which in their essence distract people from preparing for this most important day. I will caution you that if you are successful in letting the fact of your death through your defenses, it can take your breath away and cause your heart to beat rapidly. I have experienced this and at times now it “hits” me without invitation. However, I have become so accustomed to living with a fully developed sense of my mortality that this sensation is not unsettling anymore. You will know when it happens. If you find a way to really accept the fact of your death, I can tell you it is frightening but less so each time. You begin to appreciate how many of life’s stresses are self-imposed, how many of life’s problems are less serious than originally thought. This is what I’ve been referring to as the freeing effect of these mental and emotional challenges. I believe that mounting these challenges produces an effect along the lines of when a person finds out they have a terminal illness. You start to realize that if I am truly going to die, truly, not probably, not in all likelihood, really going to happen, then what is my fear based on- looking foolish for wanting to try something I wanted to my whole life? Other people’s opinions, who cares? How Do You Measure Your Time? No matter what the answer- at least measure it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Consider Your Firsts

Whether you are able to assimilate all that is offered on this blog or not, I hope you remain open to the following. Up to a certain point in one’s life, and this point varies for everyone, most of your firsts are generally pleasant or memorable. In our childhood, we have many firsts- first bike, first trip to a baseball game, first time you get a 100 in school, a first sense of accomplishment. Many times, we carry these strong impressions with us for the rest of our lives and there is a reason for that. Then in our teens, we get a first job, a first car, we experience first love and eventually sex. Thankfully, we get to prove for the first time that we can handle growing responsibilities. Clearly, some less than favorable firsts can be interwoven with these formative years but for many Americans, an overall impression is left that, up to a certain age, our first experiences of one kind or another are positive. As we age, the nature of our firsts begins to change and usually not for the better. Over time, our firsts take the form of perhaps losing our first friend or parent to death. We go through a first divorce or have our first surgical procedure. We get our first glasses or have our first lapse of memory. These are natural milestones of aging though not welcome ones. Later in life, we have the possibilities of losing a spouse or child, of losing our job due to age, or being seriously restricted by health issues. So as time, measured as it can be in nanoseconds, marches on, I encourage you to take stock of your life to date and make some decisions about how your later years might play out. How much control do we have over the declining years of our lives? And again, for some, the declining years may be in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. Is it all subject to fate or can we at least visualize a way to strive for dignity for our entire life? Of course, this question will touch off moral issues for many. But as with the previous entry, I encourage you to at least think about when might be the ideal time to die. Over the last few decades, psychologists have done many studies on the effects of hopelessness on the human body. The results frequently indicate that when a person has decided there is nothing left to live for, they actually do accelerate their own death. Occasionally, you will hear about a couple who had been together for many years and when one of them dies, the other soon naturally follows. These phenomena reinforce for me how strong the human will is and how devastating its absence can be. So even though you may not believe that choosing an ideal age to die has any effect, I continue to hope that it does.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

65 and Out

For me, picking a “wished for” age for my life to end is an exercise in maturity. For instance, now at age 45, I can’t help but think, as objectively as possible, that dying around 65 would be ideal. That may seem too calculating but I have done a lot of thinking on the subject. Right now, I have three healthy sons and have been married for 15 years. Obviously, in twenty more years, I will have been married for 35 years. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some of the world’s most enchanting destinations (and plan to continue to do so) and to challenge myself in three diverse careers. I am a published writer and will be completing my Masters Degree within the next two years. In short, I have met many of the goals I have set for myself. Living for another twenty years will mean that my children will have the maturity to be able to process my passing as adults. I believe that, by that time, I will have experienced the joy of grandparenthood. Twenty more years gives me time to pursue a few more goals that may even be unknown to me at this point. But, that aside, and in keeping with this blog’s theme, I will have had the time to build a life which fills me with even more pride than I feel today. At the same time, dying at 65 may spare me some of the indignities that can be typical beyond that age.

As I’ve shared this mental exercise with friends, I have at times been met with unsettled stares. It doesn’t seem that I should need to remind anyone that this thought process will have no bearing on the actual year of my death. I may die at 65 or next week. The point really is again to drive home how delving into foreign terrains such as these can be uncomfortable but also an impetus to set goals and live your life in concert with them. If I don’t waste time over the next twenty years, there is no reason that dying at 65 should be seen by anyone as unfortunate.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

On Suicide

It seems obvious to me that I could not have a blog like this and not discuss suicide as a choice that some people make. Surprisingly, as I look back, I’ve had to deal with other’s suicides on a personal level as much as on a professional one and I was a mental health worker for 11 years. In 1993, one of my good friends decided to kill himself in Texas when he was facing a divorce and dishonorable discharge from the army. In 1986, while I worked at a psychiatric hospital in Hartford, CT, a coworker decided to kill himself. So, it has hit close to home at times. And of course, suicide sparks a huge amount of philosophical debate. Everyone from The Hemlock Society to the Catholic Church to insurance companies have a stated opinion about the value of human life and the morals (or lack thereof) of suicide. I could not hope to aptly contrast all those loaded and hopelessly divergent points of view. Suffice to say that I think everyone has an opinion (or an algorithm) about suicide and its impact. And it is very difficult to cull out one’s personal feelings and give a sanitized and absolute opinion on the subject because the circumstances around every suicide vary. When I read about a parent killing themselves and leaving the other parent with children to raise, I am confused as to why they didn’t feel like those children were their reason to continue living. When I read about another parent who ends up killing their children before themselves, I am angry that they couldn’t have just ended their own life. When I read about a person facing years of undignified existence at the hands of a degenerative disease committing suicide, I understand it. Ultimately, despite how unsavory a topic we may consider it, committing suicide is a choice that everyone has. I don’t see the point in moralizing it and regard the moral debates as a waste of time. If anyone has the misfortune to have someone close to them commit suicide, it’s important they understand that it is so personal and secretive a choice that to search for clues in this concretized world that that person left behind probably won’t bring much relief. As with any death, the best thing you can do is try to make sure those around you, those you care about, know how much you love them and remember the person who left in their best of days.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Five Reasons Why...

Here are five reasons why being dead is better than being alive (counterarguments welcomed)-

1. Death is permanent.
2. Death is the only gateway to either a) an elevated state of energy (spiritual view), or b) a painless, stress free, worry free state of peace (atheistic view.)
3. Death is the only way to know which of 2a or 2b is accurate.
4. Death frees up resources for other people.
5. Death is respectful to all people in that it treats us all the same.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Please Don't Kill Me

Although the title of this entry seems in keeping with my blog’s theme, it really is a departure as I venture into the explosive territory of male/female relationships. I picked the title to acknowledge that some of the readers will wish to kill me when they read the entry. However, if you are able to read to the end with objectivity, you will see the wisdom.

First, a little history. When I was a pre teen in the early 1970’s, the television set was awash with stories about the battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which first became qualified for ratification in 1972. The TV news had stories of women leading protests and rallies in support of the amendment. This is when we first heard the term “Women’s Lib” and Gloria Steinem came to the fore by co-founding the Women’s Action Alliance. Closer to home, I asked my older siblings what all the fuss was about. My older sister explained that these efforts would allow women to get paid equally for doing the same job as a man. I was naively shocked to find out they weren’t. She continued that women wanted to be able to use the courts to bring cases of sexual discrimination. I didn’t understand all the implications of that. But, she added, women were also looking for a societal equality where they would not be looked down upon for expressing themselves sexually or being sexually aggressive. She said that women wanted to be able to ask a man out on a date, to pay for dinner, and to initiate physical intimacy. With that, I pictured high school and college years that would approach a nirvana like level of satisfaction. I thought that it was a great time to be entering into my dating years, how wonderful. As we all know, this never came to fruition, and not because the ERA was never ratified by the requisite number of states. To this day, the relationships between men and women are largely the same as they were 100 or 300 years ago. And for as much bigoted energy that some men still put into keeping women as second class citizens, women have also not done themselves any favors by continuing to seek the status quo. To turn on the TV today, and tune into the “women’s shows” (Oprah, The View, etc) is to be “entertained” with seemingly harmless discussions about the relationships between men and women. But if you listen closely, the dialogue is very often tainted with an undercurrent that men are out of control and untrustworthy. Glance at the cover of a woman’s magazine (Glamour, Redbook, etc) and see the titles of the articles such as “How to Tell if He’s Cheating.” This title plants the suspicion that he could be cheating and gives instructions on how to catch him. These insinuations are part and parcel of a tiresomely old, skewed, and offensive status quo as we all know that the vast majority of men are able to function and thrive in completely monogamous relationships. However, it is only fair to acknowledge that some men still insist on embarrassing the whole sex by treating women as objects and having only a “scoring” mentality when it comes to intimacy. It is this group that needs addressing.

I am not interested in defending this group as much as explaining some of the real forces at work. I cannot defend this group because I am tired of needing to constantly earn women’s trust and part of women's resistance to trust is based on this group's highly publicized behaviors. On the other hand, it is only because I have been able to suppress my urges that I am able to stay monogamous. Do men want to have sex with any able bodied woman who is willing? The answer is yes. And here is where I rely on history and borrow heavily from anthropology to hopefully deflect any animosity.

Now, a lot of history. Humans, throughout their entire history of 2.7 million years, only began engaging in rituals such as marriage with the advent of religious awakenings. A liberal estimate would place any modern concept of a committed relationship at 10- 15,000 years ago. As such, this concept of monogamy is “new” to humans. Surely, even 20,000 years of striving for monogamy cannot compare to the millions of years when we didn’t. And why didn’t prehistoric man engage in monogamy, with no regard for familial or communal boundaries? In the time before modern weapons, when everyone’s weapons were basically the same, tribes survived based on how many men they could throw into defending their territory and food supply. If your tribe had 90 men with clubs and theirs had 70, you were in good shape. With that, it became a biological imperative to be able to produce as many children as possible. Without the luxury of having to decide whether sex was right or wrong, our prehistoric brothers simply tried to impregnate as many of the women as possible. Mathematically, a man could and can be responsible for dozens of pregnancies at any given time whereas a woman can only be responsible for one. So for millions of years, that math played itself out as tribes balanced the production of as many members as possible only with the ability to feed them. There were no moral or political considerations, which is a concept that most of us cannot fathom now. I suggest that men still harbor this innate urge to “populate” as much as possible. Two and a half million years of conditioning does not subside with 20,000 years of imposed rules. But this is not to say that these feelings cannot be suppressed. I, along with millions of men, suppress them for the sake of our relationships every day. My concern is that the focus of the popular media is on the behavior of a minority of men and that even those who cannot stay monogamous rarely do so specifically to hurt someone else. I think it’s time to balance the perception of men as reckless and unfeeling with a broader understanding of the primordial forces at play. Men do want to have sex as frequently as possible and with as many partners as possible. But even for those who believe that this is a conscious choice, I see it more as a deferral to a time when it meant survival.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Shaking the Bucket

I saw the movie The Bucket List last week with a friend. We were celebrating his 50th birthday that very day. To say the least, he was conflicted about the auspiciousness of the occasion. To add to his trepidation, The Bucket List, starring the venerable Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, was more of a slice of (end of) life drama than the comedy it seemed to be advertised as. There are many moments of philosophical wrangling between and within the two main characters, both of whom had been treated for cancer. They fly around the world to places of unmistakable significance. Their motorcycling over The Great Wall of China, wandering the Taj Mahal, and sitting atop a pyramid gives them ample opportunity to balance that place’s relative permanence with talk of the afterlife and the great but transitory nature of even profound love.

So as The Bucket List enters its 5th week of release, and grosses in excess of $44 million, I can’t help but wonder whether Americans are laying down their cash under false pretenses, believing it to be a comedy, or are intrigued with the newest in a long line of movies that deal squarely with the topic of dying and how we spend our time before we do so (sound familiar?)? To be sure, contemporary Americans take pride in a few of the labels that describe their place in the global community. The world’s only military superpower. The world’s most prosperous nation. But, after having clocked 231 years as a self-governing nation, we are also among the youngest nations on earth. Given that, I suggest that we display a collective maturity best compared to that of a teenager. Consider how we love to fight. We love to get drunk and high. To even the most informed citizen, our government’s money management skills seem questionable, maybe indefensible. This estimate of our nation’s maturity level is further supported by how averse Americans are to discussing or planning for their own deaths, as collectively we feel as invulnerable as a teen. We are squeamish to write our wills, uncomfortable around graveyards, and change conversations away from the subject of death and dying. So how do movies like The Bucket List, Leaving Las Vegas, Terms of Endearment, and others, occasionally break through Americans’ reluctance to grapple with the issues around their own mortality? Perhaps each movie’s marketing team has been particularly triumphant, packaging each to lure us in for a laugh before lowering the boom. Perhaps each has been released on the cusp of some cultural uncertainty. For The Bucket List, the doomsayers’ recent predictions for the U.S. economy and the future of the dollar would provide that uncertainty. Or perhaps the success of The Bucket List signals more individual acceptance by Americans about their individual fates and, by extension, the fate of the United States as the beautiful and fresh exemplar of justice and freedom unless it plays out and plans for all the possibilities of its own demise.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Trying on my Old Man Suit

As an armchair philosopher, I have determined three facets of human psychology that distinguish children from adults. Mind you, you will read nothing in this list about a chronological age as we all know that some people never seem interested in growing up just as some never seem interested in having a childhood. The three facets that distinguish adult thinking are the ability to synthesize seemingly disparate information, the ability to anticipate, and the ability to conceptualize one’s own mortality. As a mortalist (yes, my own word), I have used this blog space to offer some thoughts on the subject of death and the ways in which people decide to spend or waste their time. But as a separate exercise, I occasionally find myself trying on my old man suit.
Simply put, as a subset of indexing the many ways I might die, I sometimes “suit up” in one of the many physical, mental, or social afflictions that could plague my “golden” years. So for instance, what does arthritis feel like? If I was unfortunate enough to have Alzheimer’s Disease, what would it feel like to “come back” from an episode and begin recognizing loved ones again; is the slipping into an episode frightening or welcome? Will my wife die before me or vice versa? Less dramatically, how will I handle it when I realize that I’m being humored in a conversation solely based on my age? If I have a heart attack and survive, how would I remember the pain? Which major system of my body will be the one to turn against me?
Of course, inherent in all these scenarios is the assumption that I will make it past, say 60, and having made it, will not die suddenly compliments of the proverbial bus about which so many seem to fantasize. I think we can agree that dying suddenly has its advantages, principal of which is avoiding a long drawn out illness and the burdens that it would place on caregivers. But statistically, most people do not die suddenly. Over time, most of us will author our own ever growing list of aches, lapses, and minor procedures. How do we carry ourselves with dignity? Can a regimen of exercise and healthy eating now put us in good stead? All these questions and projections are part of the phenomenon of trying on my old man suit. And similarly to my reasoning for playing through my own death, I think that these adventures can better prepare you mentally for the road ahead. As I’ve offered before, by grappling with these probabilities now, perhaps there can be fewer surprises later. “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you-” Neil Young.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elvis in 2007

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. On August 16, 1977, he succumbed to heart disease brought on by years of amphetamine abuse. As thousands gathered in the heat today to partake in the memorial services, one has to ask why, what drives this lingering national obsession with a man who could be viewed as simply a cliche, a self-destructive rock star? Why, according to Forbes, did Elvis' estate gross more in 2006 than any other dead celebrity other than Kurt Cobain? Why do an estimated 400,000 people visit Graceland every year? On some level, people buy into Elvis as a victim, a country bumpkin who must have been over his head and surrounded by self-serving sycophants. His manager, Colonel Parker, and Elvis' family put a lot of energy into conveying an image of Elvis as a gentleman, so concerned for the welfare of others that he'd buy them Cadillacs or food on a whim. When Lisa Marie was born, Elvis the doting father was born. But the fundamental reason that his legend endures is because Elvis had a very strong work ethic when it came to his music. He was relentless, often doing more takes than his producer required and staying at the studio all night in order to get one song the way he thought it should sound. Part of his drug use stemmed from the stage fright Elvis experienced before his performances. And that was fueled by the pressure he put on himself to do an outstanding show each and every time he took the stage. Elvis voiced a sincere concern that the people who attended his shows should get their money's worth and, except during his waning years, he delivered. There is no excuse for the way that Elvis abused the drugs made available to him. He rationalized that as they were prescribed to him by his physician, they were medicine and not illicit drugs, which he ironically despised. We wish that every adult could take a step back and assess the personal damage caused by using drugs. But Elvis never stepped back, never took that opportunity. In 1977, he was miserably overweight, suffering from arthritis, and self-conscious about both. Elvis died in an embarrassing way, on a bathroom floor. But we stand by him now, 30 years later and honor him. We honor the good memories, the flawed human being and especially the music. I was not an Elvis fan for most of my adult life. And still, there are many bands I would listen to before Elvis. But when I listen, and listen carefully as I did today, the soulfulness and desire to please come through. A professionalism and heartfelt urgency come through. His music is playful, rendered, and dynamic. Elvis' style is unmistakable and he carved a unique niche for himself. No one else may occupy this niche ever again in music history. He was an imperfect king. But his music is a rich tapestry, fit for any palace.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Television Must Die

It’s July, 2007. Media Conglomerates are scrambling to develop and deploy the perfect combination of on demand programming and unrestricted mobility. They strive to be the first to offer customers any movie, TV show, documentary, video blog, or event ever offered through the traditional media via non traditional devices. Companies such as Joost and BitTorrent partner with Google or Apple and grapple with the issues present with both streaming videos (low quality pictures with buffering and disconnects) and digital downloads (piracy and copyright infringement.) There are questions about how large of a customer base will watch a 1 hour TV show let alone a 2 hour movie on their 2-3” cell phone screen or their computer monitor. But a larger question looms. Why do we want it? What purpose do immediate M*A*S*H or Dallas episodes serve? When do we will feel the need to see Back to the Future or Good Will Hunting on an emergency basis? And lest we forget, media companies survive based on how well they can blur the lines between what you need and what you want.
As “blinks” (2 second commercials) and “adlets” (5 second commercials) add to advertising companies’ arsenals, we can expect the blurring to continue and to further endure the onslaught of almost constant product pushing. Our movie theaters, bus stops, highways, restaurants, and colleges have long been awash with advertising jingles, sexually positioned models, and focus group recommended colors. But whereas those former refuges have been overtaken, television was designed from the beginning as an advertising vehicle. That’s all television is and as a mesmerizing tool for blurring our needs and wants, the question remains, Who Needs Television or any idea based on it? The concept that we may be required to pay more for commercial free programming underscores the extremes we may agree to in order to be free of the unending assault offered by television. Watching television, simply, is only an exercise in deciding which products we may need; which brings us to one point. People really only need food, air, water, shelter, and, in some cases, medicine to live. We are biological creatures who have been convinced that we need many things we do not. And as we know, it is a self-perpetuating cycle, so, as an example, once you get that PlayStation you needed, you need to get games, obviously, replace controllers that break and upgrade or feel like you’d lose the money invested up to that point. Once we are able to reestablish the solid difference between what we need and what we want, the sense of urgency and necessity that often drives people to overextend their credit or to file for bankruptcy will start to recede. I mention in other entries on this blog that decisions about how we spend our time are the most important we ever make. Spending time watching television is wasteful. Do I watch television, yes. But as I opt for reading, writing, and watching DVDs more and more, and watch TV less, my tolerance for it continues to decrease. As with other decisions in my life, I evaluate what I will watch and I mute all the commercials. Give it a try. The more I mute, the less tolerance I have for advertisers’ endless manipulation. I wish you luck. Spend a week not watching any television and see how much time you have to do what you want, not what advertisers tell you you want. Time to read, write, call old friends, exercise, or catch up on your sleep. You’ll be free to do what you want, while your television dies a peaceful death.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Then There's Hell

Believing in heaven or hell is a very personal evolution. Many adults get their concepts of heaven or hell while young and from many varied sources- television, teachers, but most strongly from whomever raises them- and carry the concepts throughout their lives. I think that the concepts of heaven and hell are offered by spiritual leaders to effect three outcomes. The first is to bolster the image of god as omniscient, all knowing. Obviously, if god is all knowing, then god can know what a person is doing or thinking at any time and have an opinion about that behavior. The second is to infuse fear into the people who subscribe to any particular religion. Fear of going to hell is a strong motivator to do good and to turn to the church in times of personal doubt. The last reason that the concepts of heaven and hell made their way into the popular conscience is that they made very slippery concepts of morality concrete. In other words, as people were and still are profoundly accustomed to learning by narrative, the story of the battle for one's soul and the possible results was digestible for people; they could get their minds around it. And it is this very oversimplifying that erodes any credibility for me. It seems to me that if there is a "god," capable of creating the most subtle and intricate forces of nature, capable of designing complex structures such as the human brain, capable of emboldening people to bring forth great art and music, then that entity is in no way concerned with our day to day follies. I think that if there is a god, the most brilliant minds humans have ever produced- Einstein, Jefferson, Oppenheimer- could not come close to understanding its magnitude. To believe that an entity of such unfathomable power is somehow keeping track of whether we swore on a given day or lied to our boss is just ridiculous. We want to believe in the concepts of heaven and hell because we want to believe that some people- Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, Dewey (just checking if you were paying attention)- could never enjoy some sort of posthumous comfort or elation. But that is imposing human scale justice onto an enormously larger plane. I like to think that by being a basically good hard working person, that it will not go unrewarded at least in this life. But the cold hard facts are that we either die and simply decay or we are all afforded the same treatment after we die. The reading I've done of the work by Elizabeth Kubler Ross on near death experiences informs my thinking as well. I don't think there is some super huge abacus up in the sky calculating our every misstep. It is comforting to think there is a heaven and hell but it seems part of a larger story told for very earth bound reasons.

Measuring Time

So, although seemingly morbid, I don't spend every minute thinking about my mortality and I wouldn't recommend that to anyone. But by rethinking how you measure your time, you may find that a healthy urgency starts to affect your day to day decisions. For instance, when someone refers to the "past," what do you think of? How do you measure that? Is the past last week, last month, or what you did this morning? I realized one day that because every unit of time is divisible (so an hour ago can be thought of as a half hour ago, one minute ago becomes a half minute ago, 30 seconds ago becomes 15 seconds ago, 1 second ago becomes .5 seconds ago, and so on), there really is only the past and future with the present being an illusion. The present is an infinitely divisible point of time, to the point where on any practical level, it disappears. Whereas many people would define their past as at least yesterday, I started to realize that the past and future are always at hand. You started reading this blog in the past. You started reading this sentence in the past. As I adapted to the intensity of this thinking, I began to appreciate the process by which time passes through us. We are always on the cusp of the past and future and clinging to the comfortable idea of a present. Given that, I found a new urgency in all I do. I evaluated how I spend my time and decided that television was by and large a waste of it. Raising my children became the obvious first preference of how to use my time. Even if I decide to lounge around the house on a weekend, it is a conscious choice. This realization raised every decision to my conscious mind as an important one. Inevitably, people at funerals come to this same realization as they gently admonish, "we need to spend more time together" or "we need to slow down," only to have their newfound philosophy dissolve as they leave the service. Our time on this planet is truly short, as you've heard hundreds of times. Accepting that every minute is a collection of half minutes, seconds and half seconds, not to mention milliseconds, may highlight how many opportunities we each have every hour of every day to decide how we will live.

Eyes on the Prize

I recently turned 44 and am more convinced than ever that the ways in which we spend our time are vastly more important and telling than the ways we spend our money. People will tell you that death and taxes are the only certainties in life but really death is the only one; many people find ways around the taxes they owe. The money one makes in one's lifetime is really a man made construct, a tool, and has no inherent value. Our mortality is a biological mandate not of man's making. And given that death is the ultimate reality, for me, wasting time is tantamount to a crime. Humans live their lives under the assumption that they will live to some calcuable age and that the end of their life, even if statistically close, is under their control to some degree. This is a defense mechanism as people find the subject of their mortality distasteful, unsettling. But I say, Embrace your mortality, welcome it, understand it. I do my best to keep my mortality, with all its implied frailties, fixed in my consciousness. I wake up every morning and ask myself, "If I die today, what is left unfinished? Are my loved ones taken care of? What is on the stove?" I'm sure this comes across as a counterintuitive way to feel motivated but that's the exact effect it has on me. I remind myself every day that my time is limited, to use it well, to not put off what I should be doing. Planning every day, even in small ways, for what will really be the most profound day of your life, the culmination, offsets the arrogance that can accompany its denial. Death has become less scary for me as a result of a sort of self-imposed bombardment. It's not as though I think people need to be inventing or creating or conceptualizing in every waking moment but I do think people should be aware of what they are doing and its implications. Socrates imparted that, "An unexamined life is not worth living" and I couldn't agree more.