When reporter Daniel Piotrowski asked me to fill in details for him about lessons that life has taught me, I had not the faintest idea where that would lead. I thought the story might appear in a little corner of a newscorp daily newspaper, but it was made front page stuff in the Lifestyle section at news.com's site. From there it was distributed through the newspapers around Australia.
The story was then pinched by other newspapers round the globe and translated into various languages, discussed on radio and TV and is still turning up in odd places. It had other effects I don't want to get into here.
If you read his story, and the follow-up he never expected to be writing, you'll see its bizarre global journey. The focus was on Ten Points about Life that I scribbled down in response to one of his questions.
|From the follow-up article|
The watershed point is reached when you face the prospect of your own fairly imminent death, not as an abstraction but as a brutal truth. It is only then that we get a chance of having any truly balanced perspective in life.
I daresay many will disagree with this, or at any rate, find it disagreeable, because the term is used in many ways. It's not up for discussion here.
What happens at that point is that you begin, maybe for the first time, to learn about love in a different way. We may know about the intensity of love in all its forms in that other world — of a child for its mother, father, and siblings, of a friend or lover, or a parent. But facing your personal death makes it something different, and affects all bonds and all attachments. This in turn cannot but affect the relationships others have with you.
Again, I'm just leaving that on the table.
For sixty-three years of my life, I was barely touched by death. It may seem strange, because in that time, I experienced the deaths of my father, my two grandmothers, all eleven of my aunts and uncles on my father's side, some good friends and colleagues. Of course I mourned them, and my father's death had a very strong impact; but I was eighteen then and making my own way in the world. My mother's youngest sister's death saddened me immensely, it is true. She was much loved. My father's brothers and sisters died of age-related illnesses for the most part. All of them were older than my father and we were very close to some of them.
In a sense, this is everyone's experience; that of losing those they care about to varying degrees, but until they grow older, comparatively few in first-world countries have had to face the real prospect of their own death.
It was not until my youngest sister's death five years ago that things changed for me. As a mature adult, coming from a stable family, there is nothing like the death of a deeply-loved sibling to shake any delusion of immortality, or even self-importance. That sibling probably shared with you some of your most intimate life moments until different forms of relationships took over your life; ones I also leave on the table here.
The world just moves on no matter what your pain at your loss. It will when you die. That's how it is supposed to work in a healthy society.
The reason I come back to it here is that a couple of these ten points need a little clarification, which is what I'm doing now. It's time to cut to the chase.
As reported in the Lifestyle article with added comment:
by Denis Wright
1. Don't spend your life in a job you hate. Life is too short to live it only in the evening and at weekends.
One thing I should have added here is that it must be read as a companion to No. 7. below. It all very well to toss in that unfulfilling job on the spur of the moment, and then find you don't have enough money to live on. Change may be the goal but it's probably unwise to leave your safe place until you have found another.
2. If there's something bad happening in your life that you genuinely have no control over, learn all you can about it and how to live with it. Beating your head against a brick wall is unproductive. Taking possession of your life is what you must do.
3. If you think you can change it, then go all out to do so. Try to understand its nature and work with it where you can.
4. There are no 'good' and 'bad' decisions. If you made what you think might have been a poor choice in life, learn from it, and you might make a better one next time. You don't know what's going to turn out good or bad in the long run, so regrets are a waste of time.
5. Don't agonise about the past. You can't change it. Live in the slice of time that's the now. You can't live in the moment; it's too short. The slice is richer. It contains a little of past, present and future.
6. Apologise as soon as you can when you think you've hurt someone. Don't try to pretend you're perfect. Accept responsibility where it's due.
... to which I add, don't be afraid to say, "I don't know." You can always add, "But I'll try to find out." When I was teaching history at university, it was usually [to a student], "But I know where to find out." I suppose it depends on the relationship between the questioner and you.
7. Keep your options open for as long as possible. Don't close them unnecessarily.
8. Try to keep your sense of humour if you can, though it's not always possible. Nor is it always appropriate.
9. Carpe Diem .... Or, for a change, seize the day!
And there's one more.
10. Do not be too afraid of death. If you're not more afraid of your own death than you need to be, then you should have little fear of anything life can hand out.
This was the one needing most clarifying. The biological imperative says some fear of death is needed to stop you doing stupid things that cost you your life. As we know, it's far from failsafe. But that's its only purpose in survival.
You have to ask yourself exactly what it is you fear, and deal with that. Being dead should hold no fears for a human being. You just need to do all in your power to make the transition as gentle as possible.