To Life

Charles Shultz drew this cartoon, and in it, Charlie Brown says to Snoopy, "Some day, we will all die, Snoopy!" And Snoopy replies, "True, but on all the other days we will not.”

Sounds so logical. We know that everything that lives also dies. It's easy to embrace life and living, but not so easy to embrace death and dying. So how do we navigate this truth about our mortality?

I recently visited France to be with a dear Uncle who is 94 years old. Every day he is asked, "How are you?" And here’s his automatic answer: "A little worse than yesterday, but better than tomorrow.”  In spite of his pessimistic forecast, we spent a wonderful day together high in the mountains in an ancient French town called, Sainte-Agnès. That particular day he had few aches and pains, and abundant energy. We walked and talked and lunched. And as the sun set over the French Alps, he stood to move rhythmically to the beat of musicians rehearsing their performance for that evening. His body moved easily and painlessly, and his dancing enchanted passers by. He received an appreciative round of applause, and with a modest smile, took a good-natured bow. That day he lived joyfully.

When ideas of death and dying arise, fear can hijack our attention. Fear can shift our focus from today's vitality to concern about a bleak tomorrow. Fear and joy are incompatible partners. So when we’re worried about tomorrow, it can be difficult to enjoy today. Robert Brault says it this way:

“Why be saddled with this thing called life expectancy? Of what relevance to an individual is such a statistic? Am I to concern myself with an allotment of days I never had and was never promised? Must I check off each day of my life as if I am subtracting from this imaginary hoard? No on the contrary, I will add each day of my life to my treasure of days lived. And with each day, my treasure will grow, not diminish.”

And one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, wrote this about how to hold the dual focus of life and death:

“Doesn’t everybody die at last and too soon? Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Yes, we have one wild and precious life, so let’s live it!  When concern for our mortality arises, let’s honor it and put it in perspective. And let’s consider Snoopy’s wisdom one more time. "Some day, we will all die, but on all the other days we will not.”  Charles Schultz is highlighting the fact that life is offering us every day — but the last one.

It’s unlikely that today is that day. So, let’s use each of our todays to celebrate life!