Learning to Die (And Live)

Day 21: In the End

Today’s prompt, which was supposed to be written on December 21, referenced the whole end of the world thing, and what items you would use for survival in a zombie apocalypse.

Well December 21 came and went and the world is still here, and Barack Obama was sworn in as President (publicly) this afternoon. Watching his inauguration speech made me reflect on his words, in terms of new beginnings and challenges facing the U.S. With that in mind, I thought about my life, and the new beginnings and challenges I will be facing this coming year.

I decided to take a more thoughtful approach and write about what I would do if the end of the world was near, and I knew I was going to die. I immediately thought of Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie, and the nuggets of inspiration Morrie shared with Mitch as he was reaching the final days of his life. This quote in particular has stuck with me after reading the book:

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

I think Morrie means that if we knew our end was near, and that we were going to die, we would all live a lot differently. We would no longer take our health and safety for granted, and we would treat our loved ones with more respect and patience.

With that said, in 2013 I should try to live in each moment and cherish everything and everyone in it. I should try to understand my mother more, in spite of our ideological differences, and just listen to her instead of just argue. I should spend more time with my father, who is battling cancer, and continue singing with him and doing things that make both of us happy. I should call my sister more, like I used to, to hear about her day and laugh all night long. I should tell Michael I love him everyday, and really truly mean it, because nothing makes me happier than realizing that I am going to marry a kind, intelligent, thoughtful man, who loves me for who I am in spite of my flaws.

I should tell all of my friends – old and new, from my CCHS days to days in the TCNJ dorms to the halls of Skinner to ballroom practice space in the SPH volleyball gym – how much I truly, deeply cherish their friendship. When I was having a shitty day, or I was working long hours and needed a break, I have always counted on these people to lend an ear for venting, or a shoulder to cry on, or an inside joke to make me laugh. I was just thinking about how truly blessed I am to have so many wonderful friends in my life that give my life meaning, and make everything I do everyday worth it because I can share my successes and failures with these amazing people, who are always there to celebrate or listen.

I should tell all of my mentors how much I value their advice, knowing that they always “got my back” – my directors who led me onto the CCHS stage, my professors at TCNJ who have shaped me into the student and woman I have become, my professors at UMD who have trained me into the best scholar I could possibly be, and especially my amazing advisor, who was more than someone that just led me through coursework and graduate school duties but has taught me life lessons and listened to all of my anxieties and fears about everything, regardless of whether or not it was actually school-related.

I should do all of these things, not necessarily because I am actually going to die tomorrow, but because I love the people in my life and I want them to know it.

One of my friends posted a really interesting article on Facebook called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” . The author, Emily Esfahani Smith, argues that a truly fulfilled life isn’t necessarily one where the person is happy. No, she claims that individuals need to have meaningful lives, where the person is the “giver” instead of the “taker”:

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

And so, perhaps we should all strive to have more meaningful lives as opposed to just happy ones. I feel that I do indeed have a happy life, but maybe I could use a little more meaning in it. Since I’m still young I have a great opportunity to strive to get there. And I think I can.

I’m going to close today’s post with another quote from Morrie Schwartz. I think its fitting because it talks about what it means to have a meaningful (and not just happy) life. Morrie totally gets it. And I’m hoping, someday, I’ll get it too.

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half asleep, even when they are busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

About Rowena Winkler

Passionate Performer, Speaker and Writer by Calling, Dancer of All Good Beats, Yoga Practitioner and Enthusiast, Spiritual Trustee of the Universe, Traveler of Many Distant Lands, Lover of Derek the Logical but Amiable, Mother of Eponine/Dex/Teyla, Architect of Spoken Word Poetry, Trainer in the Craft of Communication, Unapologetic Individual, First of Her Name.
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