Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Death Teaches Us About Life

What does death teach us about life?

Recently a relative died, and then our doctor died.   Living on retirement island, we see a lot of neighbors and friends leave the island feet first.   Death has a way of putting life in perspective.  What we think are things of critical importance end up being junk thrown in a dumpster only days after we pass on.

Some folks have trouble with this.  I noted before about a friend who has spend five years now, weeping over their parent's possessions, spending close to $100,000 in property taxes, insurance, utilities, and whatnot, to keep an unused house because sorting through (and throwing away) the parents' possessions is too traumatic.

For me, wasting $100,000 is far more traumatic.

It is not hard to see where this comes from though.  Cleaning out a loved one's home isn't easy.   All the "stuff" in their lives which seemed so important only days before is now just crap to be hauled away, given away, or sold off as quickly as possible.  And nowhere is this more true that with material possessions.

You may, as a young person, obsess about your car.  After all, it cost so much and it is so cool to have a sporty hatchback, right?   But the minute you are dead, the car is just some routine possession to be sold off to settle your estate.  In the greater scheme of things, it really isn't important at all.   Neither is your computer, your stereo system, your wall-screen television, or your X-box.   All just junk that is gotten rid of very cheaply, as it really isn't worth much.

Now, you may say this sounds depressing, but depression is literally a state of mind.   I am just reporting the facts in a neutral manner.   If you choose to perceive reality as "depressing" that is a personal choice.   And many do just that - preferring to live in a fantasy world where nothing downbeat ever occurs.  Sadly, such fantasy worlds end up causing more depression, as they inevitably collide with mean old reality, which seems twice as "depression" because you've avoided it for so long.

A better plan is to appreciate reality for what it is, and learn to like it.   99% of the world's problems - maybe all of them - are caused by people choosing to live in fantasy worlds, be they religious, economic, political, or emotional.

My perspective on all of this is positive, not depressing.  The realization that most of what we consider "important" in life is in reality utter bullshit is not a depressing thing, but a liberating one.  The "stuff" we accumulate life that we think of as "important" ends up being piles of junk our next-of-kin shovels into a dumpster.   The lesson here is a good one - stop obsessing about "stuff" and obsess more about life.

Stop trying to document your life through mementos or tchotchkes or facebook pages and start actually living it.   Stop looking at life as a series of possessions to accumulate or achieve, and instead look at it as a set of experiences to savor.

When I was younger, I though of life more in terms of things to buy.  If only I had a house, I would be set for life.  If only I had a cool car, I would be set for life.   Once I achieved these "things" I would be happy.   What I realized was, later on in life, that the things we did were more important than the things we did them with.   Getting attached to a boat, or a car, or a motorcycle is kind of dumb, in my opinion.

And one factor that caused this paradigm shift was aging.  As a kid, you think a car is going to last forever, because 10 years seems like half your life, and in fact, probably is half your conscious life.    But after you've driven a car from the showroom to the junkyard - more than once - you realize that these things are transitory possessions.   They are things that serve a purpose in your life, and when they stop serving a purpose, you should dispose of them and move on.

Hoarders can't grasp this concept.   To them, things are the holy grail.   You'd better not throw that out!  You might need it some day!   But of course, whatever it is you need "some day" you can probably find on a store shelf or someone's garage sale for cheap.

My friend with the house full of possessions is also a hoarder - an organized on.   They have multiple storage lockers with racks of shelves and lots of "things" carefully organized for the later day when they will be called upon to be used for some purpose.   In the last 1/4 of their lives, I am not sure what purpose these things will be called upon for, but that's the logic of it.   And I am not sure that one can enjoy "things" when they are locked up in a storage locker.

But maybe I am missing the picture.   Maybe the whole experience for them is to visit the storage locker and fuss over the possessions.   Maybe that is the fun they get out of it.   The things are never to be actually used other than their fondling, organizing, and storage.   I suppose in a way, it is the "joy" a numismatist or a philatelist gets similar joy from pawing over their collections as well.  If so, then I guess there is an experience there of some merit.

However, having been to one-too-many estate sales, I am not so sure I really need to own too much anymore.   Possessions at this stage in life seem more a burden than a joy.  Just another "thing" that needs to be taken care of, put somewhere, and worried over.  And with mechanical and electrical things, yet another opportunity for disappointment as inevitably they break or fail to meet up to their over-hyped expectations.

What is left behind when you are gone isn't the stuff you bought but rather things you made whether they are friends and family, a piece of artwork, or a poem you wrote.   These are the things that are intangible for the most part - that are expressions of your life, and thus closer to life itself.

Your wallet and credit cards, your money, your house, your drawers full of junk - they are gone in a matter of weeks and mean little or nothing to anyone, even yourself, if you think about it.

And this is a good thing, trust me.

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