I’m not sharing this to elicit sympathy from you. I’m not asking for your condolences.
On October 5, 2018, my seventy-year-old father was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away on October 28, 2018. It doesn’t matter what type of cancer he had, or the fact that he was relatively healthy, or that seventy isn’t as old as it used to be. None of that matters.
We’d not seen eye to eye on many things when I was younger. I matured, and my father became more tolerant, and as an adult, we’d resolved many of those issues and enjoyed each other’s company. When I first started events like “Authors on a Train,” he’d been intrigued.
As a child, his aunt had taken my father on the old B&O Railroad, and he had fond memories of train travel. He had listened intently when I told him about my train trips from Chicago to San Francisco on the California Zephyr. I knew it was something that he wanted to do but not something my mother would enjoy. I remember thinking, “Maybe next year I’ll surprise him and take him on a train vacation to the West Coast.”
Well, there will be no next year as his ashes are sitting on an urn in my mother’s bedroom.
It’s so cliché that it makes me cringe just typing the words. Don’t live with regret. But how exactly are you supposed to do that? Should we all act like teenage hedonists, running around and fulfilling every desire and fantasy as they arise? Maybe we should take a page from the current political playbook and do whatever is in our own best interest and to hell with the general welfare of humanity?
It’s not that easy, and I don’t have the answer. I’d like to think that I simply didn’t have the time or the money to take my dad on a father-son, cross-country train adventure. That’s what I have to tell myself now because I don’t want to live with regret.
People piss us off. All the time. In fact, I’ll bet some of your deepest wounds come from your longest feuds with those who are part of your extended family. At my dad’s service, I saw three of my uncles whom I hadn’t seen in 10, 12, and 20 years, respectively. I can’t even remember what they did to anger my parents so much that I hadn’t seen them in over a decade. It didn’t matter because they didn’t approach me at the service, and I made no attempt to talk to them either. I’m living with anger that doesn’t even belong to me.
I had the future, I’d told myself. At some point, when conditions were more ideal, I’d get on that train with my dad. I’d foregone the opportunity to create a moment based on the fallacy that my dad would still be here in the future. I was wrong. I could’ve been wrong in many ways, and chances are, we’ll all be wrong because we’re terrible at predicting the future.
Whether it be “scientific” studies or our own predictions, we get the future wrong. Almost all of the time. I should have been assuming he wasn’t going to be around in 2019 and then considered the trip for 2018. But it was far more convenient to future-trip the future trip.
Binary thinkers and those with a fixed mindset might believe that you have two choices—plan for tomorrow or live for today. But I think you can do both.
I’m holding a Memento Mori coin in my hand that I purchased from Ryan Holiday at the Daily Stoic.
On the website, it states, “These coins are designed with the intention of carrying them in your pocket, a literal and inescapable reminder that ‘you could leave life right now.’”
Memento mori. Remember that you will die. We all have. We all will.
Yes, I continue to contribute to my Roth IRA. I pay my annual gym membership because I expect to be here a year from now, even though I have no idea if I will. I don’t know, and neither do you. I pay my taxes. I plan for old age.
However, my dad’s passing has become an ethereal memento mori in the same way as the brass medallion in my pocket.
His death and that coin are both reminders to me that to live is to be present, to value what’s in front of me. This post, these words. This is all I have right now. Tapping through my notifications or checking my email instead of writing these words would be stealing value from the present. I’d be trading the promise of a future that can’t be promised for the instant gratification of a dopamine hit.
I can’t go back and take that trip with my dad. He’s gone and with him any lingering sense of regret. I won’t permit it. And I wish I could say that I reconciled my parents’ issues with my uncles. But I haven’t. I can’t pretend that I’m not thinking about the cool projects I have on the horizon of 2020. I am.
What I can do is reach in my pocket and feel that medallion, think of my dad, and make the most out of this moment that will never exist again.
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