"Their final days". That's the papers today. People are dying and they want to live on in the hearts and memories of their loved ones.
Stephen Giam, a motivational speaker, passed away three weeks ago from advanced bile duct cancer at 51. He wanted to write a book about his final journey. But he did not have the time and he shared a video he made instead entitled "Stephen Says." The video covered issues like "What's it like to have cancer? How do you make death your "slave"? How do you leave a legacy?"
Another patient Benny had pancreatic cancer. In an interview, he said that "his biggest regret was to divorce his wife and the most important thing he learnt, after knowing that he had little time left, was to treasure his family."
Lesson? Death (or the thought of it) has an amazing way to concentrate or narrow the mind fabulously. Suddenly, everything we strive and crave for in the days of our youth goes strangely dim. And everything we have forgotten or dismissed as distractions takes centrestage.
If death is night and life is day, then the morning comes with a burst of energy. We are born. We grow. We are just discovering. We learn and fall, and learn again all over.
Then comes the afternoon. When the ambition is the hottest. We are geared up for the high noon of achievements. We want to be known. We want to shine. We want to do well and be proud of it. The fire is in the belly and the mind is laser-focused.
When evening comes, we return from whatever we were doing and achieving with a sense of fatigue and disillusionment. Suddenly, it dawns on us that life is much more than that. When sunset comes, the meaning-of-life goalpost, which once shifts constantly, even erratically, comes into sharper focus as our perspective broadens horizontally.
I like to think that in our youth, we use a torch light to concentrate on our path - be it career, marriage and family. We are intense in our focus. We have enough light for the next step. We see nothing else in fact.
We are serious about efficiency of actions and thoughts, serious about getting things done. Everything we do, we either want results, or it's a failure. We see success by a narrow window, just a slit of burning passion. Success (with a torchlight) is usually more of everything - money, status, possessions and recognition. The accumulation is relentless.
Then comes nightfall. This is a time where we are drawing the last reserve of our living breath. We are closer to the grave now. Things are quieter. The noises of ambition no longer keep us restless. The activities around us are still. And the enduring meaning-of-life goalpost stops to shift as it comes into clearer focus.
Now we somehow know where to go, how to kick and where to score. As our horizon widens, we discard the micromanaging torchlight that shines only at the immediacy of the material. And we turn on the floodlights behind us to see better, further and wider. We begin to see beyond the mindless chase, pursuit and race.
More importantly, we see the shadow of eternity lying beyond the horizon. The stars of the night becomes our guide. The white-noises of the day clamoring for our autopilot attention now gives way to the stillness of the night nudging us to give up the things that hold us in captivity, and instead to embrace the things that grant us true, lasting freedom.
In the great distillation of imminent death, we see loved ones. We see family. We see hope not in the things of the world, that is, fame, money and power. Instead, we see hope in relationships - not quotas, charts and profit margins.
We see the eyes of our children and wife, and realize that they have always been looking back at us, waiting for us at home, hoping for a minute of our time, fighting for our attention, living for our affection - all of which were seldom reciprocated as we are drowned in the busyness of our pursuit for the meaning of life as we see it then.
Let me end with what Khahlil Gibran wrote: "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far."
The question is, "To whom have we been giving our bows (ourselves) to? To the archer who has in his sight the mark of the infinite so that our children's pathway will always be on target to the source of life, meaning and purpose? Or to the one who only sees the mark of the material, and every release of the arrow always misses the true target?"
Food for thought? Cheerz.