In what’s usually a time swept up in thinking about beginnings, I’ve been thinking about that other thing. You know, the part where you stop breathing before you start doing whatever comes after that. (We’re not really going to get into that “after” part.) But yes, that thing: death.
Over the holidays, I read a couple of really interesting life stories that involved their endings. One was the biography of Jim Henson (creator of all things Muppet and then some), and the other was Going the Distance, written by George Sheehan (doctor, writer, marathon runner, fitness believer) as he was dying of cancer. Both accounts, though about men with very different career venues, served large dishes of food for thought about the quality of life on a day-to-day basis. I won’t go into too much detail about their stories here, but they’re both good books about great-yet-greatly-flawed men that are well worth reading.
We know, at least intellectually, that we all have a limited shelf life. Sheehan, knowing very acutely that he was actively dying, offered a lot of interesting thoughts on what, if anything, he would/should have done differently (or not), and on what he felt was really important. He noted that:
“Obituaries are filled with achievements that mark those we think of as successful. But obituaries tend to conceal biographies, and those biographies tell us the deficiencies and defeats of even the great and near great… Each one of us is an experiment-of-one. Each is a unique, never-to-be-repeated event.”
Sheehan talked a lot about getting up every day and starting fresh, living days with the goal of “eight hours of sleep and sixteen hours of being happy and productive.” And both his story and Henson’s include a deep belief that a person does the most good when they pursue what they love and are becoming fully themselves. After all, it was Henson, through Kermit the Frog, who said that he just, “wanted to make millions of people happy,” and both men went to great lengths to share joy and a fullness of life with the people around them by doing what they each loved—pursuing what brought them the most true joy in their own lives and letting it ripple out from there.
I like that a lot. There’s a lot of room for growth and joy in living like that, even while knowing we’ve got flaws and will make mistakes. Every day fresh. An experiment to explore with curiosity and joy.
Oh look, this turned out to be about beginnings after all.