Three stories caught my eye in rapid succession Saturday night. They were all three about deaths of people I didn’t know, but they left me with an uneasy feeling that I’m not really living my life. Maybe I’m just sitting around waiting to die.
The first was about a victim of the serial killer Jack the Ripper. Although she’s been dead for 126 years, I saw a picture of a man with the blue and brown shawl she was supposedly wearing when she died.
The next story was about a theatrical actress in Chicago who was killed Saturday when a falling tree struck her as she rode her bike. I don’t know anything about the woman, but her piercing eyes stared at me from the picture.
The last of the three stories was about a 34-year-old mother of two in Chicago who was killed this week when a stone gargoyle fell off an old church and hit her as she walked by. She was on her way to have lunch with her fiancé, who was the mother of her children.
None of these women realized she was about to die. One was unexpectedly murdered. The other two were victims of what could only be considered freak accidents. Seeing their stories in rapid succession like that made me think about the rest of us, including myself.
I have no idea when I’m going to die. I honestly believe I’ll be here for many years to come. Maybe it’s simple denial, but I’ve always thought I’d be one of those freaks who lives until 120 or something. But I have no way of knowing.
I could die in my sleep tonight. I could be struck by a car while I’m on a routine trip to get lunch next Tuesday. I could have a heart attack next week — or next month or next year — while I’m working. I have no way of knowing.
Death is waiting for me and will take me whether I’m ready or not. So why do I still act like a teen-ager who thinks he’s going to live forever? Why do I spend time on things that don’t matter to me — instead of making the time I have count?
What did I do Saturday? I watched a football game. (It was boring.) I slept late since I stayed up Friday night for absolutely no reason. I even napped a little Saturday afternoon. I spent a lot of time browsing Facebook, Reddit and other websites. I listened to some music. I sat in a restaurant for a few hours and browsed online. I chatted with a few people, but I neither said nor heard anything of consequence.
For the most part, I wasted a day. The only thing I can think of that made me happy and felt important was when I shot pictures of sunset. (It was a beautiful sunset. Here’s one of my pictures.)
When I die — whether it’s next week or 50 years from now — nothing I did today other than that one beautiful picture will matter to me. And that’s been the case for far too many days over the last five or six years.
The late Steve Jobs told a story in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech that has stayed with me. (The speech is only about 15 minutes. I highly recommend the entire thing.) He said that every morning when he got up, he asked himself whether he was going to spend that day doing the things he would want to be doing if it were his last day on earth. He said if he had too many days in a row when he wasn’t doing what he would want to be doing if it were his last, he knew he needed to make changes.
I wouldn’t want what I did today to be my last day on earth. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve had a day that I felt that way about. Depending on which standard I used, I’d have to go back at least several years, maybe six or seven years.
The things that really matter to me are love and connection with another person and creating beauty in various forms. Other things matter, too, such as books and ideas and movies, but only when they’re supporting love and beauty in some way.
If I were to die right now and death were taking me away, I would ask myself why I wasted so much time reading other people’s arguments on Facebook. I’d wonder why I worried about other people being wrong. I would ask myself why I didn’t understand love and other people early enough to accept a woman who wanted to love me. I’d ask myself why I didn’t find someone who still did want to love me — someone who wanted to have children and create beauty and life together.
And I wouldn’t have good answers for myself.
I’m not ready to die. Not only do I simply fear my lack of adequate understanding of the entire process, but I haven’t done the things that will have made my life worthwhile. I’ve spent too many days and weeks and months and years stuck in idle.
I need to love and be loved. I need to understand a woman and have her understand me. I need to have children to love and nurture. I need to create beautiful things. I need to write things that might influence people and give them hope that their lives can be worthwhile. I need to find ways to change my corner of the world.
I need to live. Too much of what I’ve been doing is simply waiting to die.