This may not be easy to read. It certainly won’t be to write. But because I intend to cause it to exist for my own growth I will be fine with the fact that it will be difficult. I’ll be blunt: if any of you met my parents you would realize that while they are very active and relatively alert, they are simultaneously also candidates to die at any moment. They are far past the national average for age, and while my wonderful mother teaches exercise three times a week, and my father is extremely active with his gardening and walking every neighbour’s dog for miles around, they are also old enough that a brain or a heart could simply reach its natural conclusion at any moment.
Death is of course an integral part of nature. The very earth that plants and trees grow upon is in fact made up of previous plants and trees, now deceased. This is the natural cycle. Scientifically they say it’s likely that each of us carries about 500,000 atoms of Shakespeare in us. Now atoms are inconceivably tiny, but that’s pretty cool when you think about all of the people and places that you have formerly been. You are literally little ever-changing bits of the universe that come together to be you for a short while in the universe’s infinite history. And of course my parents are too.
I was recently quite sick for what was fortunately a short but intense period. I sought comfort in my parent’s home—a place I historically associate with being cared for. The plan for that day was for me to help Mom, and instead it was her nursing me—bringing me ginger ale and dry toast. I’ll admit, I liked it. It may be the last time I ever get mothered like that in my life so I really paid attention and drank it in.
Of course it’s no surprise to me that my parents could die. Intellectually this is obvious. But knowing something intellectually and knowing it well enough to live it are two different things. Otherwise smokers would quit because they understood smoking was bad for them, or people would leave abusive relationships because they would know they could do better. Well that day my awareness of my parent’s temporary-ness became sharp and clear and seeing it that clearly instantly changed my life priorities.
They say you cease to be a child when you first realize that you will die. And to at least some degree you become a different sort of adult when you can actually appreciate the fact that your own death could happen at any time. Suddenly your time on Earth isn’t about what you can achieve or get or own—it’s simply a question about what sort of experiences you’re going to have between now and when your opportunity for experiences ceases. By seeing my parent’s frailty in such clarity, I realized that the most profound and meaningful way to live is by making the appropriate preparations to die.
Are my parents cataloguing their belongings or trying to collect more? No. Are they trying to impress you with their personality or achievements? No. Is there some big future event that they are building toward? No. My parents live Moment to Moment, really without ego. They’ve been embarrassed enough times in their lives that they’re virtually unembarrassable. They’ve felt every emotion so many times that they’re familiar enough with all of them that even big things have a casualness to them. In the most beautiful way, they don’t argue much with the world anymore. The world has proven its superiority enough times that they are humble enough to surf the waves they are given, rather than forgo surfing in favour of begging for better waves.
I don’t want my lose my parents. I love them dearly and I know when they’re gone I’ll think of a million questions I didn’t ask. I’m glad I took a Christmas years back to set up some video cameras and record my nieces asking them a million questions I had prepared: Who was your first love? How did you meet? What was your worst subject in school? What did you dream of being when you were young? How much did you get paid at your first real job? (For my Dad it was 17.5 cents per hour!) Etc. etc. etc. So that’s all interesting to know. But that’s what my parents did. Who they are is how they feel to me. And so rather than trying to know them through information, that day on the sofa I decided that what I should do instead is simply be with them in an open and loving state.
I can’t stop what’s happening. But I can use it to help me define priorities. And so for now, rather than buying birthday or Mother’s or Father’s Day cards, I am instead using my ability as a writer to communicate to my parents what they truly mean to me. Because in my practice the one thing I see consistently is that parents are very hard on themselves and they always notice their kid’s struggles rather than their successes. And so I want my parents to know with certainty, in detail, before they leave this beautiful planet, that they did a fantastic job as parents and as people and I couldn’t be prouder to call them Mom and Dad. And the best and only thing I can do before they die, is love them as much as I can while they are here. And that is precisely what I intend to do.