Written: January 22, 2022
Edited: February 11, 2023
It's been about 4 weeks since my grandfather died.
It was due to cancer and old age, not COVID. He was 93 and lived a great life, and our family saw this event coming.
But knowing something terrible will happen doesn't make it sting any less when it finally hits.
This is probably not the way you expected an article from me to start out. This piece won't be a downer, but rather a melancholy look at the inner thoughts of someone going through loss just like many you right now.
It's not just loss from death, either. Many of you are also going through an existential crisis as COVID rages on with no definite end in sight.
This article will be my discourse with myself as I work through the thoughts I have about finding a path forward in the brave new world we live in.
Get yourself something hot to drink. ☕️
“In the confusion we stay with each other, happy to be together, speaking without uttering a single word.”
- Walt Whitman
As I'm writing this, I just got back from a long run in the winter air of Northern California.
I can feel the chill even after a hot shower. ❄️
I often run on the trails around where I live. It helps me work through my thoughts when I'm feeling frustrated. It helps me get out of my head.
It's been almost two years since COVID overran our world. We were all broadsided with a disease that would postpone marriages, instigate political turmoil, divide families/friends, and cause people we love to pass away.
Like so many others, I've done a lot of quarantining, and it's been years since I've seen some friends who live on opposite sides of the world.
On top of this, the world also started to feel... smaller.
Not "smaller" in that way where you feel close to someone on the other side of the globe, but "smaller" in the way that a box might start closing in around you.
I think many of you have experienced this as well.
We've been riding wave after wave of COVID variants. Two of my childhood friends got it last month, and it knocked them out for weeks. One of them could do nothing more than lie on a couch with a high fever for two weeks straight and proceeded to lose 10 pounds of weight in 9 days.
With these sorts of stories (or worse) everywhere, people have become cautious when it comes to getting out to make new friends and have new experiences.
It seems like we mostly communicate digitally with each other, viewing a wall of content served up on our phones in the silence of our homes.
'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo.
'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'"
- J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of The Ring)
Marcus Aurelius, one of the greatest emperors of Rome, kept a diary (Meditations) where he'd write his thoughts, points from the philosophy of Stoicism, and encouragement to himself. He never meant it to be read by others (side note - you should definitely try keeping a diary to write stream-of-consciousness thoughts every day).
He once wrote, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”
Think about the weight of that for a second.
It sounded so depressing to me when I first read it. But really, none of us make it out of life on this earth alive. If you accept that as a fact but use it to propel yourself forward towards your goals, the whole world opens up in front of you.
What are you going to do with the time you have here?
Are you going to sit and wait for life to happen to you, or are you going to go live?
Ryan Holiday, an author I've been enjoying reading in the pandemic, talks a lot about the concept of "Memento Mori" (or, quite literally, "Remember Death").
Death is not a horrible idea to be avoided at all costs. If you focus on the fact that you are only on this world for a set period of time, you become that much more likely to appreciate (and seek out) the experiences and people around you.
I believe there's never been a more important time to remember this than during COVID.
"I intend to live life, not just exist."
- George Takei
When my grandfather was born, he was a hillbilly in rural Ohio. In later years, he would talk about running around barefoot while trapping skunks and squirrels.
At the beginning of college, he participated in the Korean War as a conscientious objector field medic (being the same reasons and religion as Desmond Doss) and saved the lives of those he came across. He spoke a few times about that as well (which was enough for our family to know he couldn't save everyone he treated).
After surviving a war in which he lost friends, he went to Michigan and decided to make something of himself. He proceeded to get his undergraduate degree and then a PhD.
He also met my grandmother. The story goes that she was working the registration desk at their university when he walked in to sign up for classes. It wasn't very long before they were dating.
Eventually, they decided to move to California where they lived a really great life.
Despite surviving horrific early life experiences, my grandfather persisted and achieved a lot in his life.
I want to look back and, even if life dealt me a bad hand, be proud of the way that I played it. In order to do this, I'm going to remember that every day could be my last.
I'd encourage you to join me this year in asking to following questions:
If today was my last day...
- Am I working on something that's meaningful to me?
- Am I treating the people I care about with respect?
- Am I working towards my goals?
- Am I going out and living life?
If you can answer yes to these questions, I think you can look the future in the face.
Thanks for reading.