Last night I was lying on my bed. My eyes got lost watching the ceiling fan. From no where came the realization that one day this will all be over. Yes, some day I am going to die.
I am not a morbid person. I rarely think about death. But I do things that might delay the inevitable. I eat reasonably well. I am in very good physical shape. I don't indulge myself in risky behavior. And I tend to avoid situations where early death lurks, like cliff diving or swimming with large, hungry sharks.
Am I behaving in ways to delay death? Or am I doing things to make life today, better? A little of both?
All of my grandparents are dead. One grandmother was killed by a drunk driver when she was 50, thus why I don't handle DUI cases. My other grandmother just died recently after being slowly consumed by Alzheimer's. One of my grandfathers died over 25 years ago during an operation to remove a lung destroyed by emphysema. And my last grandfather also just died a few years ago quietly in his home after playing 18 holes of golf. Of all 4 grandparents, I want to go like the last one. His death came so suddenly, his eyes were open when his last breath left him.
I was also fortunate enough to have a wonderful great-grandmother until my mid 20's. She was a great woman and is largely responsible for where I am today. She was in her 90's when she died of old age. Her mother, my great-great-grandmother, was also alive well into my teen year and reached 100+. Sadly, however, I never met her.
Next year I turn 40. I am not fixated much on it. I still feel very good and can outrun men in their 20's. My hair does have a little gray in it and I have some light crow's feet around my eyes. Law school really put some age on me.
I am not one to be hung up on aging. Sure, I want to look young. Who at 40 doesn't? The only time I wanted to look older was when I was younger. I can't see myself ever coloring my hair to hide unwanted coloring. Having plastic surgery on my face is out of the question too.
In a lot of ways, I think my body is still getting better and better every year. I still believe I haven't ran my fastest marathon yet. And these last couple of years have seen me at my leanest body fat wise.
In other words, I still think I am a long way from the gradual slide down. I haven't peaked yet.
But I have to face facts. The average life expectancy for a white man in American is still mid 70's. In fact, only about 10% ever see age 90. In my mind, I have put the number 80 on the board. My last grandfather made it to 83.
With age 80 as a working scheduled check-out age, that means very shortly I will be half way there. Half way through life. Really? Wow. How incredibly short life is. I just got here.
When I pass, what will be left of me? Sure there will be some people who claim to have known me. I am not sure how much family will be around, but I am sure there will be at least a few. Friends? Don't have many.
Let's face it, life is largely a personal journey that's experienced at times in short bursts around others. It really is. But it's from those short bursts of joint experience that bonds are formed. It's not hard to understand the bond among soldiers who experienced combat together.
But for most of life's challenges, we fly through the clouds in a windowless airplane, solo. At least I have. I can't imagine it any other way. Sure I have gone places and seen things with others. However, for almost all of the events that have shaped and molded me into the person I am today, I was alone.
Even if I wrote about, photographed, or videoed events in my life, attempts to capture the true experiences themselves would fail. No one can know what it was like the first time I really heard Dark Side of The Moon. Or how it felt to complete my first marathon. Or get a not guilty at trial. Can I really describe in a meaningful what I like about pizza? No. Can you describe the color blue to someone that's been blind since birth? No.
The reason is that it's impossible to replicate the billions of chemical and electrical reactions that happened inside me. It can't be done. Thus, life is truly a personal experience.
And so I ask again, when I die, what will be left of me? How about this: not much. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be. If I were to create a family tree, I would have to admit I don't know anything about who or where I am from. Anything beyond the grandparents I knew is a total mystery.
On my desk is a very old pocket watch my great-grandfather, Louis L. Schantz, owned. How do I know this? His name is on the back of it. I figure it's almost 100 years old and it still works if I wind it up. His son, Lou E. Schantz, was my grandfather who golfed before he died. I knew Lou E. Schantz. I knew him quite well. But I never met Louis L. Schantz. But my dad did. He told me he always dressed like an English gentlemen, though he was German.
So the only thing I know about Louis L. Schantz is that he wore 3 piece wool suits and probably carried a pocket watch in his vest on a chain. That's it. I have no idea what he did for a living. I don't know where he was born, how he died, or how many brothers and sisters he had. And even if I did, would it matter? How would knowing anything about my great grandfather make my life any better today?
If he had been a wealthy land owner or President of the United States, I am sure I would know more about him. But I wouldn't know the real him. And if a couple of great grand children survive me, they won't know me either. Perhaps they will hear stories of me. Maybe they will read things I have written. And possibly they will see pictures of me.
But they will never know me. But do we really ever know anyone else? Some people don't even know themselves. Don't people you thought you knew well surprise you? It happens.
Don't think I am taking a mid-life dip into the existentialism pool. Because the truth is that, spiritually, I never got out of the deep end. I am not a religious person. I think humans created the concept of eternal life because accepting that once we die it's over, was too much to swallow.
As a species, humans tend to think we're something special. And because we are so special, there must be something different about how our life ends. Someone got the bright idea that perhaps it doesn't. But I think it does. I really do.
99.9% of all animal species that have populated Earth are extinct. Think about that for a minute. Earth formed about 4.6 billions years ago. Modern humans have been around for about 120,000 years. This means that humans have been on Earth for far less than 1% of its history. If the history of Earth spanned an entire calendar year, humans showed up late on New Years Eve. Our existence here on mother Earth is of limited significance.
Humans are not destroying the planet as some claim. That is incorrect. What we are slowly destroying is our ability to live here. But being typically human and arrogant, we think Earth is being slowly destroyed by our actions. Wrong. Nothing we can do is going to make this massive rock spontaneous disintegrate as if hit by the Death Star as Alderaan was in Star Wars.
One day we will be replaced. It's the order of things. And that order is controlled by a power beyond comprehension. Physicists and other really smart people can use mathematics to calculate the size of the universe a millionth of a second after the big bang. But no one can tell you from where all of the mass and energy came. For the religious, enter a supreme being.
I used to think about stuff like this a lot. It caused headaches. Eventually I realized I had no answers and chose to leave it that way. If the history of humans on this planet is of minor significance cosmically speaking, then the 80 years I might be lucky enough to spend here isn't even a drop in the bucket. Rather, my life would be more like a single hydrogen atom from one water molecule in millions that make up a single drop.
If I am of such mortal making, then why do anything? If death is coming no matter what and it's lights out when it does, why should I care about anything? Why was I raised with morals? Why am I not a mass murderer? Why did I go to school as an adult for almost a decade? Why did I join the Army? Why am I generally nice? Why do I pay bills? Why do I bathe? Why do I brush my teeth?
Easy. To make what little time I am actually here as nice as possible. Buddhists believe that almost 100% of human suffering is caused by our own actions. I think that's a spot on observation. You suffer when you want things you can't have. Ever really wanted something so bad it hurt? You get the point.
Were you ever so attached to anyone or anything so much that being separated from them or it completely wrecked you? Are you in love with material possessions?
Most of my actions are done to make life more harmonious. I like peace and tranquility. I value them. I don't have many material things. When I die, I imagine I will own more books than anything else. To date, I have given away more books than are currently boxed up downstairs.
You can't take stuff with you when it's check out time. Having a life whose happiness revolves around such things doesn't make much sense to me. Having a life that's dependent on others for happiness also seems odd.
Given all of this, I am not ready to dispose of all possessions, shave my head, and go meditate the rest of my life. I do like nice things. I enjoy little comforts here and there. I like to travel. And I enjoy a good steak every now and then.
But I don't want more than I need. There was a line in Forrest Gump that went something like this: "Momma always said a man only needs so much fortune. The rest is just for show."
For me, the real currency in life is not wealth, but experience. You have to get off your ass to experience anything worth experiencing.
And when I am done here and it's all over, those experiences go with me. That's what I get to take with me. That which I truly earned. That which became me.