Perhaps it is the two-day stomach flu bug that brings to mind mortality? Whatever the cue, I have been thinking about the cliché expression, “Live each moment as if it were your last” and realizing the absurdity and glibness inherent in this concept.
If I were to live each moment like it was my last, what would I do? I can start by telling you what I wouldn’t do:
- sit in an office
- listen to people I think are full of crap
- pick up dog poop
- pay bills
- feel obligated
- drive the speed limit
The list goes on and on. If it were my last – very last – moment, I would probably spend it somewhere under a canopy of cottonwood trees with people I love. Now, before you tell me I am being too literal, I point to the obvious number of references to “last moments on earth” with movies like the Bucket List and songs – sad, country saccharine songs – such as Live Like You Were Dying. Both follow the same conclusion that – given each moment was akin to our last – we would do the extreme, adrenaline-rush stuff we normally shy away from but secretly fantasize about. And, we do fantasize about final days in the arms of secret lovers, pirates, pilots and poets (consider the millions of dollars we spend on these themes)… Or we fantasize about being in those roles: of power, of intrigue, of mystery.
Maybe therein lies the crux of this quandary: Fantasy.
I once read a wonderful quote by a German author (whose name escapes me) that goes something like, “Before we can change the nature of our reality, we must change the nature of our fantasies.” I read this quote back when I lived out most of my fantasies in a reckless cacophony of bar music and road trip soundtracks. I did not live for much more. I had experienced life devoid of happiness, and with the most modest flicker of hope, and I was more than intent to live each moment FULLY and completely. But, I wasn’t happy, and I am not sure those moments – while sensual, reckless, or adrenaline-rich – were meaningful, other than in the life lessons they provided. My fantasy of happiness was a myth made in the lonely room of a lonely young woman. I had no basis of how to live the moment. I lived a fantasy day, a mirage on the sands of my twenties. My moments were blurred out, distinguished only by passing time.
I now am 38. I have bills, responsibilities, a job, a husband… a yard from which to pick up dog poop and lots of people to listen to, for whom I have little interest or respect. These annoying burdens in life seem to be experienced by all of us who decide to live something more than our own fleeting mirage of fantasy freedom. Of course, it is not all dreary and not all jobs are created with the capitalist system in mind… better than a job; some have a place, a purpose. With these responsibilities come the rewards, or outcomes. A house and yard, or a yurt, or a caravan will provide a nest, a place to raise kids or animals, and give shelter to a family of people who gather there. A spouse becomes one’s dearest, most cherished friend and ally. A job – like my own – can become a source of connection to other missions, people and concepts. Purpose provides the means by which we navigate our role in the world. But it isn’t fantastic, and it isn’t always something we would choose to do in our final hours.
More than fantasy and adventure, and more than structure and function, we simply need the space and willingness to be. How many of us ever, when asked, “What are you doing?” respond with a heartfelt, confident: “Nothing.” We suffer from an addiction to function and purpose, and when not engaged in function and purpose, we are defining our function and purpose either through colloquial dialog or in some mental health / pop psychological way.
So in the last moments… how would I be? What would I want?
There is no answer to that question, of course. The reality is most of us spend a lifetime being busy and, when we reach a point of sickness or very old age, we simply do what we have been doing all along, what we know, what we find comfort in doing until we can no longer do it. Then we go. I will no doubt do the same.
If there’s a soundtrack for this path of least resistance, I think it would be understated, modest and beautiful. The memory of a child’s voice, the sound of oak leaves moving under a slow, spring wind, the breath of our beloved dog at the foot of the bed, crickets near a lake, piano practice, the one we love making coffee. This is the music of moment. This is the way we live them out, one by one, each moment, until we are done.