Reflecting on life and death
A girl I knew died today.
That’s not true. She wasn’t a girl, she was the same age that I am.
And I didn’t know, I knew of her. I saw her posing, arms slung over the shoulders of our mutual friends, on Facebook. I saw her wide, bright, practically glowing smile at weddings, at brunch, standing in front of colorful walls on my Instagram feed.
I knew of her and, in the posts of mourning, of hurt, of grief posted by our mutual friends, I learned that she had passed away unexpectedly early this morning.
When I heard the news, I was struck by the way that it didn’t really strike me. I didn’t cry, though I wanted to, and the want seemed absurd. I didn’t know her, we never met, but a girl my age died today, she was here and now she isn’t.
I considered this while sitting at my desk today. I wondered what I was feeling, what I was thinking, and whether those thoughts and feelings might lead to some kind of revelation, some kind of meaningful change.
I didn’t have an epiphany. The heavens didn’t open up. But I asked myself these three questions and, just for an afternoon, they seemed to be the only ones that mattered:
1. What is the essential, life-defining work that I need to do?
We can spend years agonizing over this. We can hop from one job to the next, trade one career for another, move up and down the ladder in fields that don’t bring us joy but we all have that work, that calling, that drives us. We all have that one thing we’ve always wanted to do.
2. Who are the people I want to give my time to?
I moved two states away from my family in college and have stayed as far away ever since. I often think about the big moments I’m missing out on and the little ones too – the conversations I miss, the Sunday dinners we could be sharing, the books I might be reading to my sister’s kids. I love my city but these thoughts give me pause. These moments remind me that I want to be with them. They draw me closer to my tribe, even as life, and my work, sometimes pulls me away from them.
3. How can I remove everything that gets in the way of those two things?
Maybe the most important thing is the realization that we do not have to do anything. We make choices. If you know the work that you want to do, if you know the people you want to do it for or with, then the only thing to do is to take away, to overcome, every obstacle between our lives now and the ones we’ve just admitted to wanting.
I know this sounds simple but that’s only because it is.
A girl I knew died today. She was the same age as I am. She was full of life and joy and love and pain and she had work that was important to her, she had people to love and live for and I do too. So just wonder why we don’t do our work, why we don’t see our people, why we continue to think we’ll always have more time tomorrow?