Pete Seeger died last week. He was 94. As a lover of folk music, it’s hard to imagine someone who more powerfully embodied that genre’s ideals. A man of principle who believed the best thing to do with a song was share it, a man who used his music like a well from which to draw joy.
What struck me as I read the many tributes to him in emails, tweets, and Facebook posts was that death is different as you age. I lost an older brother at 13. That was a shattering experience. In my 20s, I can only remember going to one funeral – a young man who died tragically in a roller-blading accident. It was a poignant service.
By now, I’ve lost tons of uncles and aunts from my long-lived clan; too many. The most recent was just last week, my aunt Stella. A few cousins too, and of course, my dad. And outside of the family, I’ve lost friends, primarily to cancer, that blind killer of the old and young alike.
I have had more encounters with death than I’d prefer. But what once was momentous has become an event that is sad, inevitable, and far more anticipated than before. So what should we men of a certain age learn from death?
Don’t sit on things. When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, it was caught early because when I saw blood in my urine, I DID something about it. Ignoring symptoms is rarely a good idea.
Acknowledge your own mortality. Yes, you feel good now. It’s easy to tell yourself — seriously — that you’re bulletproof. But be realistic. Bodies change, fitness changes; if you are an average guy, you’re likely not as strong as you were 20 years ago, as fast. Accept it (without giving in and giving up). Set fitness and activity goals that aren’t going to leave you groaning for days afterward or in the ER.
Do stuff now. When I turned 40 and got cancer, it woke me up and I made some changes that I’d idly thought and talked about for years without taking action. It’s always time to do that. Investment guru John Templeton once said “The best time to invest is when you have money. This is because history suggests it is not timing the markets that matters, it is time.” You HAVE time that you can invest in anything you want to do. Right now. Do something.
Think a little bit holistically. No, I’m not suggesting buying a juicer or getting your chakras aligned. But when I was younger, I didn’t make the connection between my body and my mind. Using tools like yoga, meditation, therapy, etc. doesn’t only improve your psychological health. It can make you exercise better and, in my experience, make you enjoy your exercise routine more by deepening your concentration.
Death is inevitable. It’s going to come to all of us at some point, and we will be reminded of that by the loss of friends and family from time to time. But don’t take that inevitability as impending doom; take it as a reminder that with a finite amount of time allocated, it’s up to us to make the most of it.
(photo Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Leiris202)