Here is an assignment–should you choose to accept it.
Pretend you’re on your deathbed. It’s the end of this life. Goodbye moon. Goodbye songbirds. Goodbye everything awful and beautiful.
What advice might your dying almost-gone self give to your current still-living self?
Yesterday I took up the challenge and wrote myself a letter. Here is what my dying self said to the Kathy of today. (Spoiler alert: it’s full of poetic metaphor. It’s kinda long. Yours will be unique–just for you.)
What might you write, dear reader?
As you lie on your deathbed, breath coming slower and slower, the world receding further and further, let us remind you what really counts. Let us see if you agree.
Remember those days when nothing seemed to go right? When folks argued left and right? Remember the pandemic when everyone disagreed about everything? When political views seemed like sharpened stabbing knives?
Here on your deathbed with soft pillow and sturdy mattress–can you feel what really mattered?
It wasn’t the opinions, was it? The haughty beliefs marching indignantly around in your head, circling before a crackling fire and painting your face before battle? (Even though they seemed so very important, so very very crushingly important.)
It wasn’t your stringent ideas, was it? The ones you so proudly wore like flags across your beating heart? Oh how you loved your ideas–so righteous! So beautiful! So true! (And, yes, maybe they seemed true because you so beautifully wanted to save the world in your own way. To save it from its imploding self, its imploding stars, its endless tears of hunger and longing.)
What really counted in your life, dear one?
What grew like wildflowers between sidewalk cracks? When all seemed hopeless and lost, what continued to sprout seeds? What mattered in a way that makes the thoughts, opinions and beliefs pale and fade and disappear into a black hole of your dream?
Was it the times when you kept your heart open? When you smiled and reached forward to pull up a fallen friend? The moments when you twirled in your empty living room, joyous for no reason? When you hugged so fiercely to show your deepest love?
Was it the times you tried? (And it didn’t matter if you failed. You tried! You tried, dear one, and those pennies added up with interest in the bank account of your soul, can you see?)
Was it the moments when you escaped through the self-made jail bars around your heart? (“I will not love him, I will not love her, I will turn away, I will make them go away.”) Once outside the rickety cell you sometimes glimpsed a truth that still makes your heart flutter. For the very ones you judged and crucified revealed themselves in some way to be–you. Your very own self. And you can’t explain this insight to anyone because the words dry up like a riverbed in drought. But it’s true–in the same way a rainbow refracts into impossible colors mixed together as one gleaming herald proclaiming unity.
What counted in your life, my sweet? The small things: steaming cup of coffee, prancing fawns, cool summer breeze, a friend’s listening ear, excited phone call, the sharing of heart.
What counted was your presence in each moment you opened your eyes and looked around–and appreciated–the hundreds of gifts presenting themselves one by sacred one to your eyes, ears, mouth, hand, spirit, soul.
Life’s gifts like a birthday every day!
From your deathbed, remember again: wading into the lake oh-so-cold. Holding your precious firstborn wailing in your arms. Watching the gold and pink sunset. Hanging laundry on a clothesline. Singing your own precious unique song.
Those stringent I-am-right beliefs–where are they now? Floating away quickly downstream. Like dish soap disappearing down the drain. Like the silence in a cathedral as the choir sings the final note.
Those worries, those cares, those struggles…are you still wearing them like heavy winter coats? Or have they fallen away to reveal something more elemental? Can you see what bloomed beneath and through the challenges? Moment after moment of BEING ALIVE! Of feeling the world with your senses. Of LIVING!
Oh dear Kathy, I might advise you to let go of all your concerns and heart aches…but those words are easier said than done. Instead, perhaps, if it feels right, keep your attention on the immediacy of each rising moment. See what’s beautiful, what can’t help being beautiful.
Hug yourself. You’re doing the best that you can.
Love, Your Future Self
Dear Future Self, OK, I will think about this and try to remember. It sounds so easy from your end. Anyway, see you around–one of these future years. Thanks for taking the time to share your truth. Love, Current Kathy