Today I learned that Hollis Burns, a guy I knew in high school who was sixty-three years old died yesterday. He had apparently played golf Sunday afternoon and gone home, and was found sitting in a chair holding a newspaper. This guy looked healthy the last time I saw him. He was only a year older than I.
It made me think about how little control we actually have over our lives. We think we control things, we think we make things happen. But do we really?
How much of what we experience is beyond our influence? Did Hollis have a fear of death? Was he secretly worried about things? Did he take care of his health? I don’t know, because I hadn’t spoken with him in a few years. I saw him at the funeral of another high school friend a couple of months ago, but we didn’t speak. I didn’t actually know him well. He was a year ahead of me in school, a big football player type, and I was in one of my shy periods, so only noticed him from afar.
I spend a lot of energy caring about exercise and eating things that are really good for me. I do my morning meditations, I pay attention to my thoughts, I monitor and attempt to live my life strategically. But does that give me an edge? Could I be found in a chair holding a newspaper one day–sooner than later?
I have no idea, but it is possible. I’ve written a lot about the financial crisis I experienced last year, and I still wonder at myself that I didn’t see it coming. But could I have? Would I be happier with myself if I had figured it all out and prevented it from happening?
Can we forestall our death? Or a financial crisis? Can we cover enough bases to keep life from teaching us hard lessons? I don’t think so. I think these lessons, these crises serve us, make us stronger, exercise our “life muscles” so that we can keep going. But even when we do keep going, can that prevent what would seem, as in this case, a premature death?
This takes me back to an overused but still valuable adage: Live life each day to the fullest because we have no control over what will happen tomorrow.
I’ve been practicing that consciously for many years–especially since I was asked the question, What would you do if you only had twenty-four hours left to live?
What would you do? Would you try to make sure others did what you wanted? Would you do some fun thing you had always wanted to do? Would you gather the people you love around you and make sure they knew they were loved and appreciated?
Would you be angry? Would you be grateful for the life you’ve had? Would you try to patch up conflicts? Would you make sure your estate went to the people you wanted to benefit from it? Would you be able to find a way to say things you hadn’t been able to say before?
Would the veil of defensiveness drop away and would you be able to speak the complete truth as you knew it? Even then knowing that it would still only be your version of the truth?
Is it possible to live our lives like that before we reach the last twenty-four hours? Could we find a way to be that true to ourselves in the here and now?
Is that what being a Life Entrepreneur leads us to? Living authentically? Living from the best version of the truth as we know it?
Perhaps writing this is a way to honor the life of Hollis Burns. To take his untimely passing as an impetus to ask ourselves more questions, seek some way to understand how and why life works the way it does. I am feeling a bit sad that I didn’t have another conversation with him. I don’t know that it would have meant anything to him, but at least I would have felt I knew something more about him.
How many people do we cross paths with and not really know? And then they are gone.