Life can be seen as a series of contrasts. Everywhere, the rhythms of the natural world are evident, from our breaths (in-out), to our heartbeats, to the waves of the ocean. The light, and dark, the changing seasons, joys and sorrows – it seems we come to know each experience most intensely by also knowing its opposite. Could one even exist without the other? Would light have any meaning with no darkness?
It’s ridiculous to think of breathing in, forever, never letting a breath back out again. But somehow, that’s often our mindset when it comes to life and death. We are enjoying the in-breath of life so much, we forget that the out-breath of death is required to make the experience complete. We forget that our lives have a start and an end point. Life seems to stretch out, on and on, and touch infinity – doesn’t it? We trick ourselves into believing that we really can take one long inhalation, and the time will never arrive when we must exhale.
We may be able to fool ourselves into believing that life goes on forever. However, the fact remains that our life is a cycle. We begin in a watery womb, burst out into the world for an unknown span of time, then take our leave. If we really could live forever, would our lives have the same depth of emotion and the same meaning? I think not. Life’s meaning is captured in contrasts.
I have a radical proposal: Death gives meaning to life. My death, when it comes, will be a gift, because it will illuminate the importance of my life. My life is not a permanent or unchanging event. My time here is precious! I wish more people acted with a mindfulness of their own mortality. Perhaps we would spend less time on petty bickering, or on unimportant activities. Maybe we would be more openly affectionate with our loved ones. We would put aside our differences more readily, knowing that there is only a limited time to achieve goals.
If you knew you were living the final days of your life, would you behave differently?