Good only for dying?
A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned--finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complete reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And then the real tragedy . . .: that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is good only for dying.
When I first read this passage from Denial of Death by Ernest Becker as I neared 60 it seemed so dreary. His disheartening message fit well with the disillusionment I felt about hard it was to find peace and integrity and when you think you might be getting close you realize that it’s too late, there’s so little time left and your body has nearly been used up.
But in searching for more information about the book and the author, I found that he wrote it while dying of cancer and had passed away when he was just 49 years old. I was stunned. So how did he know what it was like to be 60? I realized that what he wrote was not about what he had experienced. I came to question his gloomy forecast for life.
Having passed 60, I wake up every morning and realize that I am still here and question whether I am good only for dying. Looking for other perspectives I came across a passage from John O'Donoghue, author of Anam Cara, who also did not live to 60:
We are so privileged to still have time. We have but one life, and it is a shame to limit it by fear and false barriers.
I still have time, I tell myself, so what am I to do if not limited by fear and false barriers? Can I let go of them? If not, can I act in spite of their lingering hold? Can I escape from the chains of victimization and the weight of false burdens? Can I laugh at how long I took some things that mean so little, so seriously? Can I forgive an old fool?
Early in the morning I repeat the words of the Dalai Lama:
Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all living being.
I know that I have experienced the growth Becker described and being still alive I face the responsibility of doing something with what I have become, which is both disheartening and awesome. Returning to the solitude within, rediscovering my childlike nature, brings a world of gentle possibility and discovery. Surrendering, letting go, accepting my fate and myself as uniquely valuable human being puts me in a place of peace, ease and delight.
I feel a new sense of rhythm with myself, with living, acting boldly knowing that my time is limited, that one day not too long from now I will be called. And that will be all the time I get, all that I am able to do. I remind myself that the purpose of life is not to live as long as possible, but to live as well as possible. I live on this earth with appreciation for life and with a tender longing for death.