Kathy was an assistant Scoutmaster for my son’s Boy Scout troop in Albuquerque. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she left her bad marriage, became active in Scouts and began to explore by hiking and camping. “I intended to beat cancer, but I also decided that if I were going to die, I didn’t want to die in the life I was living so I created a new one.” Clyde was a road warrior fundraising consultant and before I left my position at University of New Mexico, he and I had an open conversation about careers. “My biggest fear,” he said, “is that I will die in an airport.” We can’t choose our ending, but we can have more control on the life we are living when the end comes.
I think of people who have put off their dreams until retirement, only to be cheated of that opportunity for a variety of reasons. I understand the logic. In fact, I have heard that advice and consolation from my sons at times—“you’ll be able to do that when you retire”—and I know that the guidance and encouragement is well-intended. Unfortunately, it seems that for every story I know of someone living their dream after retirement I also have a story of someone who died before retirement, was afflicted with a major health issue after retirement, or faced other circumstances that prevented the dream from coming true.
Years ago, I wrote an essay about the value of committing suicide, i.e. ending one’s life. It had nothing to do with death; it focused on ending a life or lifestyle; it focused on the beautiful potential of living in the short time we have. People in abusive relationships have to “kill off” that life in order to come alive themselves, for example. Clearly, this sort of decision, just like the decisions that Kathy and Clyde were making for themselves, has to be well thought out and completed with a sense of responsibility.
Life’s potential, thanks to the gifts and blessings afforded each of us, is truly incomprehensible. On the spectrum of possibilities, where do you want to be when the end comes?
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