As the Sunset of Life Approaches
This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post on August 08, 2016.
I am becoming ever more aware of my “perishability.” When we are children, we worry that our parents will die. As we get older, we worry that our spouse will die. But when is it that we start wondering about our own departure from this world?
For me, it started when my first parent died, but it really, truly, hit me when my second parent died. I felt that I became an orphan. Alone in this world. No one there to protect me. It is a strange feeling, especially since I was well-off financially, many times more secure than my parents. And I was in my fifties already. Nonetheless, having them around, regardless of how old or financially poorer they were, gave a feeling of security, of protection. With them gone, I felt alone and realized: I am the next in line.
This feeling of being the next one to go is reinforced by several factors. When you are working, you are too busy, struggling and handling life to have time to think about death. Retired, you have ample time to think about it and to feel the pain of old age. You are reminded of it every morning when you look at all the pills you are supposed to take. You are reminded of how old you are when you need a new hip or kidney because your body has aged to the point that its parts need replacement.
If you still do not feel that the sun of your life is setting, look at old pictures. How many people in them are still alive? When you open your contact list, how many have passed away? How many of your friends have you accompanied on their last trip to the cemetery?
As you become aware that this is it, life is coming to an end, you ask yourself what life is all about. What did I do all my life? What was the purpose of me living?
If I focus on what life WAS about, I think the answer for me is clear: It was a long list of problem solving. There was no day I did not have to solve some problem. Some were small and insignificant, some I thought were critical, but, in retrospect, what I thought was critical then I now find was not worth the time and energy I put into it.
So is that’s what life is about: Solving problems in chasing the rainbow; Trying to realize some vision or mission we developed for ourselves, whether it is to be a rich man or woman, or to save the world?
As I look at what my life was, I realize I was building a sand castle. After I am gone my work will be eroded and washed away by the realities of life’s demands. People will have their interpretation of what is needed and redo my castle to reflect their needs or values.
So is this it? Life is building sand castles?
Not so. Not at all.
When was I really alive? Not when I was solving problems, no matter how successfully. All my achievements and happiness were short lived. There was always another higher mountain to climb. I spent all my life climbing mountains that existed only in my head.
That is what life was, but what SHOULD life have been, I wonder? When was I truly alive?
When I loved. Those are the minutes that really count and I am not referring to romantic love. Yes, it has its moments of happiness, and falling in love, at least in my life, was pain and mostly belongs to the problem-solving realm. The love I am referring to is doing something of value for others, something that really mattered to them, when I gave of myself unconditionally, with all my heart. When I added value to people’s lives. These experiences gave me energy, prolonged my life. Fulfilled me. I got more than what I gave.
Life is spent in the head solving problems, but should be spent in the heart giving of ourselves to solve other people’s problems. Prolonging other people’s lives prolonged mine.
If you want to live life to the fullest, not feel you wasted this gift, filling the heart is what life should be about; To serve others unconditionally, with all your heart, enrich others’ lives to make your own life worth living.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes