“Life is short. Remember that, too. I’ve always known this. Or almost always. I’ve been living with mortality for decades, since my mother died of ovarian cancer when she was forty and I was nineteen. And this is what I learned from that experience: that knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us.
It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes…It is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking. So many of us changed our lives when we heard a biological clock and decided to have kids. But that sound is a murmur compared to the tolling of mortality.”
These sobering words, written as a commencement address by novelist and columnist Anna Quindlen, are not the typical “go out and gett’em, set the world on fire” speech college graduates expect. After all, most grads are at the peak of their lives physically – the reality of mortality is likely the farthest thing from their minds.
By focusing on the inevitability of death, Quindlen is attempting to communicate a message about life. “It is so easy to exist instead of live,” she says, it is so easy to fall into habits that become patterns that become ruts. Unless we are vigilant, we become lulled and dulled by what is familiar and can come to the end of our day – and days – wondering whether we have truly lived.
Ours is a death-denying culture; it’s considered morbid to think and/or talk about dying. But it is important to be aware of our impermanence, for unless “there is a clock ticking,” and there always is, we are likely to take the gift of life for granted. What an amazing thing it is to walk and talk, to drive a car and ride a bike, to see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the textures of life on planet earth. Every day, even the difficult ones, is a miracle unfolding before us, but we’re mostly too “asleep” to notice. Thank God for our pets and young children who remind us to marvel at what just is.
Every morning is a commencement wherein we venture forth into the world. Every day is filled with possibilities beyond our imagining. Yes, we are likely to repeat patterns of behavior that are predictable, but even these can have an element of newness to them if they are approached with a fresh mind and heart.
The fact that you are not dead is not sufficient proof that you are alive! If you are reading this, you are not dead, but the question remains – are you as alive as you can be?