on running out of time

(On the occasion of learning that an acquaintance has died.)

A perfectly lived life would be one in which every moment lived was lived perfectly.

The next best thing is to make amends, where one can, for mistakes made in the past.

But making amends takes time; one can’t stop living entirely to devote one’s time to making amends alone — and even if you did, it would mean you weren’t living — you’d be taking time off from living to mend old mistakes — itself a compromise.

So we begin life, quickly find ourselves in in arrears, then do our best as we go along. And inevitably leave some business unfinished. We take care of the big mistakes, as much as we can, to the best our ability — at least we do if we’re smart, because those are the things that drag us most quickly into the mud.

But no matter what, our time runs out, and we die. Hopefully without too many regrets. But do any of us die with none?

I doubt it. We’re none of us saints.

For many many years I’ve had a recurring motif crop up in my dreams: crashing planes. Last fall, after one particularly hideous go around (I couldn’t save my daughter, either) it hit me — the crashes symbolize death — my own death — the death of my body and along with it (in a flash of fire and fear and grief) its cargo of mind.

I experiment with being okay with that. A month or so ago it occurred to me that well, the worst that will happen is that I’ll be what I was before I was born. Not an original thought. But of some comfort, progressing me in some small way to learn to live unafraid. Yet still only a type of bargain. And no bargain, no religion, no spiritual belief, can really deliver the assurance that we need to completely dispel the awefulness of it, this death thing.

Time will run out. Time will run out . . . some small mending, at the least, will be left undone . . .

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2 Responses to on running out of time

  1. John Earle says:

    ** Introspection warning **


    As someone in his 60s, I have progressed through stages in which death was an unthinkable, fearsome unknown thing; through the Christian hope for resurrection and everlasting life as my “hold fast to” stabilizer; through other phases somewhat difficult to describe in any semblance of brevity; to my present acceptance of death however and whenever it comes. No, I’m not looking forward to death; not at all.

    But life has been good and full. Sure, there have been (many) mistakes and times I’d love to be able to replay and get right (a la “Groundhog Day”), and I’ve tried to mend as many of those “old mistakes” you mention as I can. As for the others . . . well, there are some (many) things we just can’t control.

    I’ve now progressed to the point that death is not the horrible, fearsome thing it once was. I’ve accepted its inevitability. I doubt there’ll be much of a legacy or memory of my life after one generation, or maybe two. But that’s OK. I don’t dream of plane crashes and inability to save a loved one; rather I now tend to dream about successfully saving the loved one but dying in the attempt. Interesting, no?

    So somehow I’ve gotten past the awfulness of “this death thing.” I hope you do as well, and soon. It’s a burden best left behind.


  2. Kirsten says:

    Thanks, John. I don’t really consider it a burden, though. More the mystery at the heart of things.

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