The Big Questions
Is it possible we don’t give enough time to consider the answers to why we are here, what is our purpose and what do we want to be remembered for? If we aren’t thinking about these answers on a regular basis how do we know we are living our best life. Choosing to work in an area that is all about death and dying may seem perplexing to some people, but contemplating on my own mortality is the reason I try to live my best life. Understanding what is really important informs my choices, my aspirations, my relationships and helps me to challenge social norms and beliefs. Living through the pandemic has heightened my awareness that life is so fleeting and change in an instant.
As the world enters a second year battling with Covid-19 I was reflecting on what this time has meant for me and my family. With serial lockdowns I have discovered time for reading. Yesterday exploring my Audiobook app I reviewed some of the books on my 2020 reading list which featured Viktor E Franklin’s ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’, ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins, Michelle Obama’s memoir ‘Becoming’ and Ryan Holiday’s trilogy, ‘The Obstacle is the Way’, ‘Ego is the Enemy’ and ‘Stillness is the Key’.
I consider these books the antidote to my consumption of Covid-19 news and updates. I am reasonably confident that I am not alone in my obsession with virus-related news. In a world where our comfortable lives have been turned upside down, I have sought solace in trying to understand it, put it in order so that I can move forward with certainty. And yet a year on, we are no more certain of what the future will look like as we learn to live with Covid.
Recently I added Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’ and ‘Apollo’s Arrow’ by Nicholas A Christakis to my ‘must read’ list. The Plague, a fictional story of a town besieged by a deadly plague tells of the human response, depicting the good, the bad and the ugly. Interestingly it follows the change in the characters with time as the disease ravaging its occupants.
Apollo’s Arrow, written by a medical doctor, is a scientific and sociological account which refers to the history of epidemics and pandemics to make sense of Covid-19 and our human response. However, this is not a book review, but a review of my choice of books!
Search for Meaning
Why do I need to make sense of what is happening and why do I need to predict the future? In all honesty, it is a fruitless endeavour. We are, but a small part of a larger ecosystem, a system that fosters events that change the course of our lives. Whilst rationalising and theorising, to call order to the chaos of what we are experiencing, helps us to feel a little safer it does not change the uncertain future we all face.
It is called life, we live it every day; in ‘normal’ times, we live out days, months and years without really questioning the whys and what fors. That is until something life changing happens. Events such as marriage, parenthood, serious illness and old age see us transition from one state to another. They shake us awake from our normal lives so dramatically that we begin to ask the ‘big questions’, such as what is my purpose and what will be my legacy.
For some, this new lens encourages us to choose alternative life goals, new attitudes and different actions. For others, transitioning from good health to ill health and ultimately to death, this new lens forces a new and uncomfortable perspective on life. To begin asking the ‘big questions’ when faced with a shortened life expectancy can feel utterly overwhelming and lonely. We are filled with regret of the things unsaid and the goals never realised. Worse still are those who die unexpectantly.
Paying attention to what really matters
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We could start asking the big questions much earlier in life, when we are 7, 12, and 19, and continue to ask them as we make those life transitions. It is important to reflect on our own chosen path, goals and behaviour to challenge the status quo. Our reality is shaped by our experiences and beliefs, it is an iterative process that allows us to evolve. But we need to be paying attention, reflecting on what is important to our wellbeing and wellbeing of others.
Plan for the biggest life event – our exit
Our need for certainty helps us to feel safe and yet the unpredictability of life forever throwing us curve balls making it elusive. Yet there is one life event that is certain, is universal, we are all going to die. That is a life event we can plan for and should plan for. It is not a fruitless exercise, it is not about planning for the worst and hoping for the best. Planning and discussing our own death with the people who are important to us is ‘self-care’ and allows us to live life more fully. It is also love, for those we will leave behind when we make those important choices so they don’t have to.