Once when I was a little kid, my dad asked me out of the blue:
“Chris, did you ever think about the fact that one day you are going to die?”
Buzzkill. Just trying to play my Gameboy over here, Dad.
As if to say “No, seriously,” he repeated:
“Really, I mean… did you ever think about that? That one day your life on this planet will be over.”
It seems a grim thought to drop on a seven year old. My dad’s never been one too serious or dramatic — most of the time he’s the opposite.
But he asked me this matter-of-factly. “Do you understand that one day you will die?”
I wonder what mood he was in; whether he was trying to teach me something or just curious about the depth of a seven year old mind. To this day the memory has stuck.
When I was a teenager, he introduced me to the movie Dead Poets Society.
In the intro Mr. Keating takes his class of adolescent men to the lobby of the prestigious Welton Academy, and asks them to contemplate the stories behind the century-old faces framed on the wall.
Keating instructs a student to read a verse from one Robert Herrick poem — “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Old time is still a-flying.” — and asks, “Why does the writer use these lines?”
“Because we are food for worms, lads. Cause believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.”
I’d like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times, but I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you.
Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. Do you hear it?
Carpe. Hear it? Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
After watching this with my dad, “carpe diem” was a household phrase.
“Hey Chris, want to go to the park/to the movies/for a bike ride?”
Nah, Dad, I’m busy… IMing on AOL or whatever.
“Come on, carpe diem!”
Life is fleeting. I have been indoctrinated with this truth constantly in one way or another.
From early childhood, my parents would remind me:
“Appreciate your great-grandparents… you never know how much longer they will be around.”
At 92 and 93, they are still around. Twenty-five years later, my great grandparents are an aging reminder that each moment with a loved one could be the last. Cherish every one. “You never know how much longer they will be around.” Or anyone or anything else. The clock is ticking. Over all of us.
But death is not something to resent necessarily. It provides a context and an urgency for you to enjoy your ephemeral life.
Death is in everything. Let this awareness guide our lives. Be it a breakup, a friend moving, or a family member ceasing to breathe, everything will come to an end.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”!