D E AT H

ZOOMER Magazine - - LOVE - by El­iz­a­beth Ren­zetti

IHAVEARADICAL so­lu­tion for im­prov­ing your life: think more about death. No, se­ri­ously. When you pic­ture this earthly jour­ney as an un­end­ing slog to­ward the hori­zon, the triv­i­al­i­ties of the day seem in­sur­mount­able: Should I buy the full-fat yo­gurt? Scream at the guy who cut me off? For­give my hus­band for not do­ing the laun­dry? Now imag­ine that you have six months to live. The de­li­cious yo­gurt is a no-brainer, isn’t it? You’d wave the driver through, think­ing maybe he’s only got six months to live, too, and he’s on his way to see fam­ily. We’re so ter­ri­fied of death that we train our­selves never to think about it, but think­ing about the in­evitable clar­i­fies the muddy wa­ters we swim in ev­ery day.

There is no bet­ter way to achieve that fo­cus than to lis­ten to the words of the dy­ing. As the great neu­rol­o­gist Oliver Sacks wrote in Fe­bru­ary 2015, af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer, “I feel a sud­den clear fo­cus and per­spec­tive. There is no time for any­thing inessen­tial. … I can­not pre­tend I am with­out fear. But my pre- dom­i­nant feel­ing is one of grat­i­tude.” He would die, sur­rounded by loved ones and out­lived by his books, seven months later.

When I’m pon­der­ing yo­gurt choices or fuming at other driv­ers, I try to re­mem­ber the tran­scen­dent tele­vi­sion in­ter­view the Bri­tish drama­tist Den­nis Pot­ter gave as he ap­proached death in 1994. “The now­ness has be­come so vivid that in a per­verse sort of way I’m al­most serene,” he said. “I can cel­e­brate life.” He spoke with aching power about how he could fi­nally ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of a plum tree in bloom out­side his win­dow: “It is the whitest, froth­iest, blos­somest blos­som that there ever could be. I can see it.”

Imag­ine be­ing able to see with that kind of in­ten­sity be­cause you knew the dark­ness would soon de­scend. It’s not easy, when we’re caught be­tween the pain of yes­ter­day and the un­ease of to­mor­row. But think about it next time you’re trapped in a traf­fic jam. At least you have this mo­ment, now, heart beat­ing and eyes open. How lucky you are to have even that.

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