There’s no better way to appreciate life, than by thinking about death. That’s why I ask my featured guest each week on the My Instruction Manual podcast how they want to be remembered. So let’s talk about death to learn about life.
Talking about death can be uncomfortable. I call it humanity’s best kept secret. We all know we’re going to die. But few of us really accept it.
A couple things have made me think even more about death in recent weeks.
How I Let Mindfulness Stress Me Out (Part 2)
The first involves an update on something I wrote about this in my new book 18 Steps to Own Your Life, and earlier in this blog post. I tell the story about a time I became emotional and irrational over a canceled mindfulness meditation class at the local YMCA.
Other people in the class saw this as a minor inconvenience. I saw it as a personal attack on my existence, and I just couldn’t get this affront out of my mind. I complained at the front desk. I tracked down the instructor and complained to her. I complained on Twitter about it.
Here’s the update: the other day I went to the YMCA with my son Connor and noticed a poster commemorating the life of the very same instructor who bore the brunt of my complaints.
It turns out she’s been sick for more than a decade and died the other day. It was a good reminder of why it’s so important to avoid complaining and to treat others well. We never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.
It’s also a profound reminder of the fragility of life.
The Toronto Van Attack
The second incident that caused me to think about life was the deadly van attack that happened here in my city of Toronto. A man rented a van and drove it on and off the sidewalk for more than a mile, killing 10 people and injuring 16 more. While the motives aren’t clear, it appears the attack was driven by a hatred for women.
My wife Laura and I took our kids to the memorial where thousands of people have left flowers and candles and stuffed animals. It was a moving experience.
But what struck me most was that even though this happened less than five miles from my house, it didn’t shake me any more than other van attacks that have happened in New York City and France. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s because these attacks have become so common that I already expected that one could happen here.
The more optimistic explanation is we’re a global community where a death around the world harms me just as much as a death in my home town.
As John Donne famously wrote: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”