“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” Seneca
We were in 7th grade, and the announcement came that our classmate had died. She hadn’t just died, though. She had killed herself. It made such an impact on me at such a young age. It was such a foreign thought to me and was difficult to understand. Later, there was a word attached to her death — suicide. Much later still, I understood what my friend Angela must have been feeling, what several other friends and their children have felt in more recent years, what famous and not so famous people feel every day in our world. Sometimes, life ends too soon. Sometimes, we live a healthy 100 years. No matter when we leave this earth, though, Seneca’s words are our best advice — put those finishing touches on life because we never know how much time we have.
Kate Spade was pretty darn famous as famous people go ( her name is on a variety of items in stores, after all), and the news of her death this week was a surprise to me, as are most suicides. I didn’t know much about her personally, but knowing her life ended as it did — by her own hand — was a sad thing to learn. I’m guessing that even as I write this, Google is full of searches about suicide. I’m carefully avoiding making suicide prevention my focus because while I hope that anyone feeling incredibly sad and unable to handle all that life has for them will call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, I want to focus more on the hope we might find in life and less on the sadness of suicide.
More than 6,000 people will die in our world in the next hour, some by suicide, others by heart attacks, accidents, and some because of long-term health issues. If we were to be one of those 6,000, would we have balanced life’s books (and perhaps our checkbook)? Writing about life and death this way is not a morbid approach, in my opinion, but an opportunity to consider how we are spending our days. We have a choice in how we leave things. Most of us have probably postponed items we need to address, and there is no time like today to begin working on those finishing touches. Kind of like polishing silver, it might be a little messy, but the result will be beautiful.
The Guardian offered these five items a few years ago from patients who knew they were dying:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
These people were not great stoic philosophers, yet their words have much to teach the rest of us. For each of us, in this moment of thinking through things we wish we had done differently, the list might be a little different, but for most of us, there is a list. Maybe our lists will be the inspiration another generation reveres!
Pull out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and make a list of things you’d like to do as you live well. Make a list of things you wish you had done, and see how many you can change from “Wish I had” to “Glad I did.”
Seneca was born in 4 B.C. and died in 65 A.D. in a world much different than ours today, yet he realized even then the importance of living (and preparing for death) well. His words of wisdom and intellect are still teaching lessons, as people aspire to live their best lives, and we, as he, mean to do better than we oftentimes do.
Maybe the best lesson in all of this is that we humans sure are slow learners, but I rather like the thought that someone who lived so long ago, and dealt with highs and lows as we have, has words that are still worth considering today. I hope that you and I find our own lessons to pass to one of the 15,000 people being born into the world in this next hour. Let’s get busy polishing!