to: the memoir writers
I read a lot of memoirs about dying. Not the sweet stories of redemption where the terminally-diagnosed patient survives--but the kind where someone has to stare death in the face and by the time the book is published, they're gone. I don't know when this fascination began--a fascination with those who are at the end of their stories and not the beginning. Maybe I'm trying to glean some grand revelation about the meaning of life-- some truth I can cling to and hold onto for dear life (no pun intended). But their wisdom isn't revolutionary or even surprising. They all just want to find meaning in their days here. We all do.
We all want to walk away from our days here on earth and have something to hold up and raise with a victorious "I did it! I took life and wrung it out for all it was worth! I wasted nothing.
But every time I get too focused on finding meaning and doing the "right" thing, I leave more defeated than I came. Because no matter how much we do, how much we pretend to matter, how much we begin to believe we matter here on earth in the end we’re all going to the same place.
Maybe that’s why I’ve taken up the habit of reading memoirs about death—because everyone who writes one, no matter where life had taken them up to that point is now on the same direct path with a limited timeline towards death. They can’t fight it, or deny it or pretend it isn’t true because it’s happening.
What’s remarkable though is they don’t try to do a lot. They don’t travel the world, they don’t discover the cure to some unsolvable problem—they just be. They listen deeper, they watch closer and decide to just be.
So maybe the magic is in the noticing, it's in the present. Taking life at what it is, nothing more, nothing less and laying aside any expectations. When you're at the end of your life, there's really only one thing you can expect: to die. What if we lived our lives like that? Not disappointed by unmet expectations, or strung along by the expectations of others but noticing the unexpected beauty of life happening around us. Maybe we wouldn’t be as weary or worn out when our time comes to stare death in the face. To all the memoir writers—living and gone—you’ve given me a lot. In your watching, in your slowing down, in your looking at a world you’re soon to leave—you’ve given us a gracious gift with your words.
Memoirs I recommend: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, “The Bright Hour” by Nina Riggs, “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Believed” by Kate Bowler, “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande