Halloween…or All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day (for those of you who aren’t liturgical nerds like me) reminds us that the line between life and death, this world and the next is fragile. The season of life and produce is over, the fields are about to rest and lay barren for a few months – in most of America and Europe – I live in Virginia where it’s still 80 degrees outside.
This week I watched a wonderful PBS American Masters series documentary on Edgar Allen Poe and how the constant illness and death that surrounded the average American in the 1820s and 30s shaped him and his writing. His poems and short stories about mysterious beings, death, decay and the human impulse to cover it all up – unsuccessfully – always resonated with me. When I wrote my novel, Click, I was definitely influence by Poe and other Gothic writers who were, as I am, fascinated by death through the prism of how it changes those left behind. Murder and death, illness and loss are not literary or even spectacular, they are every day facts of life. The art and poetry comes from how those events change the trajectories of the living who are left behind.
How does this have anything to do with thriving? Everything. Even though modern life, science and technology has allowed us to live with the illusion that death is far away and not necessarily inevitable, it is and it affects our basic impulses. Be honest, you would not be reading Thrive Global and other websites, listening to podcasts and trying every supplement, healthy living suggestion and latest diet trend if you were not trying to outrun the clock of mortality.
But sitting with it, once a year at Halloween/All Saints Day, or at the funeral of a loved one, or a random Tuesday when a tragedy hits the news, gives our brains and souls space to process, to peer over the edge “deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming…” to quote Mr. Poe from The Raven.
Can you truly thrive at life if you are constantly pushing away the inevitable conclusion? Now, that inevitable good-bye might be in 100 years or 180 years (thanks Dave Asprey for giving us all an aspirational goal), but it’s still coming. “Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow” again, Mr. Poe from The Raven
Keeping mortality in the back of you mind can help you achieve 4 things:
- Helps you keep your “house” in order. We’ve all heard of stories of those diagnosed with cancer or some terminal illness who find gratitude in being given time to say good-bye, to let those they love and admire know it before they are gone.
- Knowing that you have an expiration date should help motivate you to live with the push to verbalize your feelings daily and keep your lists of wrongs short. Slights by other people can roll off your back and when you have wronged others it allows you the grace to apologize quickly. How many stories have you heard of someone saying something in anger only to have the person die suddenly and there is guilt at never apologizing. Do not let the sun go down upon your anger.
- Building on those two, it helps you gain clarity on what is truly important in life. Likes on social media, the latest fashion and high powered job do not bring sustained joy, happiness or definitely not peace of mind. That can only come through with the friends and family who are your real community and relationships. You can’t take it with you.
- It helps you see the big picture, and while you are uniquely and wonderfully made and the world definitely needs one of you – you have perspective that you are only one piece of the puzzle, one part of the story, one actor in the play. Perspective for the big picture allows you go grant others space to be and thrive as they are meant to be in the big picture of life as well.