Did you know you were going to die?
That’s the question that keeps resonating in my head. I’d really like to ask Dad that one and get an honest answer. From the morning of his stroke through the next year and change there have been so many little coincidences I’ve witnessed and heard from so many people. There were conversations involving big hugs at the end, maybe a little bigger than normal. The last weekend he had with the boys was one of the most ridiculous he’d ever planned. More than a small handful of conversations including the the phrase, “if it’s mid time I am ready.” There are so many of those little moments and things that it just feels like he had to have known, it doesn’t appear to have been a coincidence.
As I’ve had tie to roll this around in my head over the past month or so (and it’s a big part of one of the last chapters I’m currently writing) I started to put more pieces together. In the final rest of yoga today my brain finally made the connection that I’d been trying to make for so long.
Did you know you were going to die? The true answer… it doesn’t matter.
For reals, I am totally okay with not actually asking him that question because I’ve been able to see the bigger picture hidden within each of those stories. Whether or not there was some divine intervention or knowledge, we can all tap into the secret of so much joy.
In those moments that seem so prophetic or coincidental, one thing is certain. Dad was living the present as if each of those moments may have been his last.
Let me sidetrack here for a moment and I’ll come back to this point.
During our morning run yesterday I was in rough shape. It was my first run since being sick and I was having a tough time getting into it. Towards the mid point I told Becky I was going to walk for a couple of minutes and would run when she came back from the turn around point. As I walked in dark silence I thought of something. What if this was to be the last time I was able to run? If this was my very last run, for whatever reason, would it be memorable? Would I be proud of it or have regret that I didn’t push harder or savor it a little more? With that thought in mind (not any details of why it may be my last, just the realization that it could be my last) everything changed. I noticed how awesome the cold air felt when drawn in through my nose. I appreciated the feeling of the impact of the ground going from my foot sending an ever so subtle shock wave up my leg and through my thigh. With the thought of this run being my last ever I soaked in every sensation and was thankful for it. I was full of joy and my run was amazing!
When Becky came back up I shared this with her and she teased me about my “morbid” thoughts. I totally get it, it probably sounds like a fixation on death, but it’s truly not. I spend zero time in fear of death or injury. There are absolutely no thoughts on how I could die or be injured. There’s only the realization that this could be the last time I am able to run and I should really take time to appreciate that thought.
As I apply that practice to the rest of my life I am reminded of a story I heard for the first time not so long ago:
There’s a famous story about a Buddhist teacher named Ajahn Chah. He lifts a crystal goblet from his side table and holds it up to the sun, “Do you see this glass?” he says to his students. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When you understand that this glass is already broken,” Chah says, “every minute with it is precious.”
The key is to remember that at any moment things can change and we may be different than we were the moment before. What was possible before may no longer be possible. We must remember to appreciate what we are able to do while being ready to appreciate a new set of things we are able to do when life changes. We must appreciate what we have in the present as if it were the last time we had it.
Back to yoga today… We had already done a cycling class that was the best I’ve ever participated in. The teacher pushed and pushed and I gave a ton of effort. It felt great! In yoga our instructor offered up one of the more physically challenging classes I’ve ever had. At one point towards the end I went into halfway lift and did about the most half assed halfway lift I’ve ever done. I chuckled to myself and thought that if this were my last yoga class I’d be pretty disappointed with that one move to I pressed on afterwards and gave it my all as if it were my last. It felt amazing… and opened my mind up for the connection that came during final rest.
Whether or not Dad knew he was going to die soon was irrelevant. What mattered is that he lived so much of his life as if each day may be his last. This created so many moments in which he was fully present and full of joy.
Full disclosure, I can’t even being to explain how thankful I am to have TWO parents who both modeled this behavior for me. While I write about Dad as he is gone the same could be said for my mom. Ever since childhood every goodbye includes an “I love you” and a big old hug. If that last good bye is actually the last goodbye I can perfectly remember and appreciate each of those hugs and words.
It’s interesting how this realization also has me seeing that I must be focused on what I still have. It’s so much easier to appreciate what we had when it is gone instead of when it is still right there in front of us. My hope is that this practice and insight can help me through that.
For so long I’ve pondered that question… Did Dad know he was going to die? Today I’m thankful for finally understanding that the question itself is irrelevant, the actions we take to appreciate the present moment are what truly matter.
I have a request for everyone today. I know, there’s probably only about 3 or 4 people who have made it this far (and that includes me, Becky, and my mom) 😉 Please take one moment today, something that seems routine or ordinary. Pause for a moment and consider that this may be the last time you do that activity. Let that sink in. Have no fears, don’t think about the details of why. Just think about how this might be the last time you are able to do that thing. My hope is that the appreciation and sensations you feel will leave you with a huge smile and a heart full of love and joy.