Though most of us won’t admit it, we are secretly inhibited (and anxious) about our end, desiring to know when it will end. Maybe that’s why we lose ourselves setting goals and courting greatness. Beyond the natural need to nurture our time and talents, we also do so to help maintain our balance, which is more elusive than we admit.
Even so, we are deeply concerned about our end; not, however, simply about the outcome of our efforts but more so about what happens when life has left us. This concern inspired existentialism, fatalism and every other historical ism. It also inspired the wisdom of the sages as revealed through the ages. A sense of mortality instinctively produces such when we allow it to touch us in ways we routinely deny and ignore.
Then we ask ourselves, “What am I doing this for?” Though rhetorical, this question is also rewarding because it forces us to fix our gaze beyond the ways we devise to achieve our goals and the privileges we hope to gain when we succeed. Thus, some people pursue religion for answers; others pursue pleasure instead, seeking to silence the interrogations that inspired Kierkegaard’s dread.
Even so, we want to know about our end, when it will end. Some of us may even want to know how and where it will end. To deny this inquiry as natural is to make detachment inevitable. How can we rightly relate to others when we are indifferent to ourselves about what matters most? In fact the quality of our lives is determined by the degree to which we have embraced our mortality.
Unfortunately, some people become ruthless and aimless in response. Others become ambitious and obsessed. Yet no goal or gain can censor mortality whether or not we respond. The time will come when we will be disarmed and must answer or perhaps ask, as did the Psalmist, “O’ Lord, help me to understand my mortality and the brevity of my live! Let me realize how quickly it will end.” (39:4)
Unlike many of us, William Shakespeare refused to ignore or deny the sovereignty of mortality. In fact he confessed, perhaps as an antidote, “I have immortal longings in me.” Maybe Shakespeare’s willingness to confront his mortality immortalized his writings. Maybe that’s why he was able to embed creatively what he couldn’t embody existentially. Maybe our work would be more enduring if we weren’t in denial about our mortality. Maybe we could increase our force if it were rightly faced.
Aptly embraced, legacies and legends result, depending upon our influence. But even if we never achieve this status, our lives will be more authentic because we confronted our mortality. Maybe facing it would make us more cheerful and charitable also. If we understood just how quickly our lives do end, no matter how long we live, maybe we would be the difference that makes the difference in the lives of others before nature pulls the covers.