I’d like to tell you a short story based on a movie that has had a profound impact on me.
I'll get to the story in a moment, but first, a little background on the movie...
It's called Griefwalker (by Tim Wilson) and it focuses on the life and wisdom of Stephen Jenkinson, a theologian and philosopher who worked as an end-of-life specialist for many years. Because we all must face death in our lives, inevitably our own someday, I highly recommend this movie and Stephen’s work to everyone.
After sitting at the death beds of a thousand individuals, Stephen has accumulated a wisdom regarding the process of dying that is perhaps unmatched in our modern times. His views and insights are extraordinarily powerful and extremely well-delivered in the movie.
Stephen is a blunt yet thoughtful man, and my own interview with him (Living with Meaning) remains one of my all-time favorites.
At one point in Griefwalker, Stephen was lobbed what I’m sure the interviewer thought was a soft-ball question. From memory, and I last watched the movie a few years ago so I’m certain to have this inexactly recalled, it was along the lines of “So, Stephen, you’ve learned how to ease people through the process of dying. How is that done?” I guess the idea was that after being so steeped and skilled at shepherding people through the process of dying, Stephen had arrived at some tidy formula for making it as gentle as possible.
Without blinking Stephen said, “Oh no. Dying for most people these days is horrible.” After a few shocked fumbly moments by the interviewer, and I confess to having been shocked too, Stephen continued, explaining that the physical process of dying can certainly be managed easily and well with palliative care, but the emotional journey can be quite terrifying (at first).
The reason why is because most people spend their entire lives pretending as if death is somehow avoidable. So when they find themselves dying, they suddenly have to confront the fact that they may have forgotten to fully 'live' during their one and only shot at life.
To suddenly realize the most precious thing you had was barely treasured along the way, never to be recovered, can indeed be a horrible moment.
As far as we know, we’ve only got one life to live -- and facing our end puts that into sharp focus. As Stephen says in his book Money and the Soul’s Desires, “Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life … is death.”
To look back on one’s time on Earth and realize how much of it was spent not really being alive, not loving, not noticing, not being present with what is, is to realize that your one glorious ride was largely spent without reflection, depth or meaning. It...