We become so wrapped up in our routines, our struggles, even in what brings us joy, that we can easily forget how quickly our lives can drastically change, or end, through some unexpected disaster. Growing up, I lived in near-constant fear of my own death or the deaths of those I loved.
I was in 8th grade when death affected me personally. A couple of boys in my grade, who were brothers, passed away. They were playing in a flooded drainage area and drowned. While I wasn’t exactly friends with either of them, I knew them well enough to see the effects of their passing among my classmates. It wasn’t like something you’d read on the news about kids in another part of the state or country. It was right in front of me. I saw true pain and suffering in the eyes of my classmates. I personally didn’t feel pain in their passing, only because I didn’t have personal relationships with them, but I did get a wake up call about life.
That call was stern, but simple: it can be over before you know it.
I remember, months after those two boys died, sitting on the bus as it went past the cemetery behind the Catholic Church off Highway 44, contemplating death.
That’s where we’ll all end up, I thought. And all we’ll have to be remembered by is a headstone.
Peace about dying
My peace about my own death came from a seemingly unlikely source: “Metal Gear Solid.”
(Metal Gear fans: It’s been about 20 years since I last played the game, so forgive me if I get the details wrong.)
There’s a part near the end of the game where Snake talks on his codec to someone who had injected him with a virus called Fox Die. This scientist, Naomi, gave him the virus to get revenge on Snake for killing her brother years ago.
Snake asks something like, “How long do I have? When will I know my time is up?”
Naomi responds with, “Just live, Snake. Just live.”
How do I “just live?”
I love finding the most complicated way to follow a simple piece of advice. I wasted a good portion of my 20s trying to figure out how to be happy. I realized happiness isn’t something you achieve. Happiness really is a choice we can make daily. Life can throw some shitty things your way, but it’s your response to it that dictates how you feel and think about it.
I struggle with feeling joy. Sometimes wonderful things are happening around me and I’m mired in my own mental mess to recognize it.
Many, many decades from now, when I’m a prune of a man with a few teeth and a few gray hairs, I want to be able to look back on my stupid little life and feel nothing but gratefulness. I want to have few regrets (maybe none, but that’s probably impossible).
One thing I was glad to be able to do was visit my grandparents in Missouri a few times before they passed away. When Logan was born, something inside me made me want to reconnect with that side of my family.
So I wrote my grandparents a letter about Logan being born and how my life had been going since I last talked to them. It had been about 10 years since I had last contacted them.
Grandpa Sid responded almost immediately. He wanted us to visit them when we were able. The phrase he used that hooked me into agreeing to fly up there was, “Grandma and I are living on borrowed time….”
My eyes filled with tears when I read that. I must have re-read it three or four times.
Among other opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of, I tell you that I have absolutely no regrets about reconnecting with my family. Even though I felt more pain when my grandparents died. Even though I feel more pain when I get calls about my dad and his health issues.
What do we leave behind?
I remember those in my life who have ridden on ahead because of the love they showed. To me, to others. Love is immortal. It spans generations.
I may never have a building named after me or I may never be a famous author (maybe that’s a blessing). But I want to be remembered by the love I showed to those around me. Even the assholes who might not deserve it. Because sometimes I’m an asshole and don’t deserve it.