I am reading a 1996 book called How, Then, Shall We Live? by Wayne Muller. It was one of a dozen books I grabbed from a table in a room at an estate sale, where everything you could fit in a bag was $10. So I bought this book for pennies; it’s a miraculous bargain.
Muller’s subtitle is “Four Simple Questions That Reveal That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives.” The four questions are Who am I? What do I love? How shall I live, knowing I will die? What is my gift to the family of the Earth?
I’m just past the halfway point, on the third question, and Muller has just shared an anecdote his friend Paul, who is in the final days of his life. Paul has accepted this reality but also wishes he had 10 more years so “I could really live as I always wanted.”
Muller asks what Paul would do if we could give him those 10 years.
“I would be kind. I would live my life with kindness. I would be kind to children. I would teach them to be kind, too. This is all I ever really wanted to do, just to be kind, to be loving.”
We all imagine how we might adjust our lives if, right this minute, we were told we would die soon, or within a matter of weeks or months, or on a specific date in, say, 2027. It focuses our attention on what’s important.
Muller recalls a question in the Bhagavad Gita: “Of all the world’s wonders, what is the most wonderful? The answer: “That no man, though he sees other dying all around him, believes that he himself will die.” It’s indeed a wondrous thing — and how different life would be if we felt, every day, all the time, the reality that all of us are going to die.
I have to believe this would be a kinder, gentler world. I have to believe we would be more fearless about living the lives we want to live. I have to believe most of us would try harder to live our best life, to be our best selves, and to be more patient with those around us who, after all, are just trying to live their best lives, too.
How shall I live, knowing I will die? We literally have a finite amount of time to work out the answer to that question. Best get busy.