My brother-in-law Chris recently blogged about an intriguing idea. In his essay he explored the idea that having a finite period of time in this mortal existence impacts how we live and what we focus on. He suggests that the impermanence of life affects how we perceive things and informs our choices and our actions.
Why does the fragility of this impermanent mortal existence make life more special? Chris talks about how real flowers have more value than fake flowers since there is a temporary quality to them that demands to be enjoyed in this moment since their beauty will soon fade. Similarly, a gorgeous sunset or a beautiful rainbow are short-lived, and would not be nearly as special if they were always there. The fact that these displays of nature last for just a few fleeting moments adds to their charm.
When my dad was told he had six months to live, I often thought about what I would do given a similar prognosis. It certainly would depend on my health (my dad was seriously ill during his final months), but I think I’d focus on deepening relationships and creating shared experiences together. The fact that we knew our time together was so limited made those final months extra special.
Of course, I believe in the eternal nature of the soul. My faith teaches that progression is eternal and that family relationships can continue beyond the grave. I believe that someday after I die, my body will be resurrected to a perfect and immortal state. That belief provides me with comfort and peace, and gives my life much more meaning and purpose. I believe the purpose of life is to gain experience, intelligence and relationships. Those are the things we’ll take with us when we go. But I don’t like to live my life and make choices based solely on expectations of future glory. I follow Christian teachings because I believe them to be the blueprint of happiness and peace in THIS life.
(Side note: sometimes when I do the dishes or help Robin put away the groceries or lug 40-pound bags of salt down the stairs to the water softener, I ask myself, “Will I be doing these mundane tasks for eternity?” I certainly hope not. To be honest, the thought of living forever has always made me a bit queasy, mostly because of my aversion to repetition. Even if we are doing amazing things each day as exalted beings, wouldn’t it get old after a while? I don’t like to think about it too long because my finite mind cannot comprehend the infinite. Even my daughter Brianna told me once that thinking about living forever makes her “tummy feel kind of weird.”)
Anyway, my point is that my belief in eternal life does impact my choices, but having a finite period of time to do things in this life also affects my actions. The fact that my children are growing up and that their childhood is fleeting makes me want to spend more time with them. It makes me want to cherish the present moment. When we know something will NOT last forever (rainbow, sunset, freshly cut flowers, time with a terminally ill parent, our children’s childhood), it becomes that much more precious to us.
I am not suggesting that we “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” I am suggesting that while we look forward to eternal life with excitement and great anticipation, we should never forget to have joy in the journey — TODAY. Remember that scene from “Dead Poets’ Society” where Robin Williams’ character tells the boys “Seize the day, boys, make your lives extraordinary.”