Living life in the present moment

the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island

You are going to die.

In Bhutan they say that contemplating death five times a day brings happiness.  When I was told about this by a friend this week, I was unconvinced.  It sounds macabre.  It sounds depressing.  It sounds morose.  It sounds like something someone would say around Halloween.

The season in which we find ourselves is one that reflects on death.  Each culture and religious tradition makes a big deal out of death in the “laugh or you will cry” sort of way and our culture is no exception.  Day of the Dead celebrations in Spanish cultures are rich in beauty, art, food and drama.  I found that death in the voodoo cultures of Haiti were also full of beauty when I lived there in the 1980s.  There were gorgeous dances, revealing, sensual costumes, bottles of potions and music that was simultaneously beautiful and relaxing.  My closest friends lived in a pottery village outside Cap Hatien.  They were voodoo leaders- they loved me and I loved them. We spoke of the afterlife often even if we did not see eye to eye on all aspects of what is, let’s be honest, a mystery. 

There is a phone app (it’s 99 cents and worth every penny!) called WeCroak and indeed the app is so popular that it has become a movement.  Sign up, and five times a day you will get a message that says “You are going to die.”  If one were to click it, the link is to a 10-30 word quote from a famous author about death and its inevitability. Five reminders a day.  Five quotes as day.  Five moments to stop and think “I am going to die.”

I have been doing this for a while now…getting five reminders each day saying exactly the same thing: “You are going to die.”  Usually I stop and pause to reflect on that very real truth.  Sometimes I even click the quote to see what new and wonderful author has said bout the inevitability of death.

At first it was weird. I did it secretly.  I covered my phone like I was hiding it from the polite Christian public around me. I glanced at it and kept my head up so that I would see someone coming who might ask uncomfortable questions about what I was reading and if I was sheepish because it was somehow naughty.  Then today someone asked me.  “What was that message?”  I asked, in response “Why did you ask?”   To which she replied “I don’t know…your face warmed a bit and relaxed…I assumed it was good news.”  I showed her the text “You are going to die.” And we both burst out laughing.

I remember when I was reminded five times a day that I was a sinner.  It did not improve my life.  I also remember being reminded to pray five times a day.  That did not improve my life.  I lived in a monastery where we worshipped five times a day.  That was just exhausting. Then I signed up for an app that told me to meditate briefly five times a day. That was a preposterous failure especially if I was driving, shopping or engaged in coitus.  But this new thing – being reminded that I will die – and being reminded five times a day – has literally transformed my life.  

I will be in a tense meeting and the text reminds me to lighten up.  I will be fighting with someone  and the text reminds me to let go of the rope.  I will be working too hard and the text will remind me to eat an ice cream and go for a walk in the sun. I will be angry and the text will remind me that life is short and anger is a waste of energy if it is held for too long. I will think the morning alarm went off and the text reminds me to stay in bed and spoon my dog…who will also die one day.

Earlier this week I had many plans for the weekend.  I was going to get a lot of work done! I was going to pay my bills, make more pots, clean my house, make the week’s dinners.  But I got the text: “You are going to die.”  So I am in line for a ferry that will take me west, out deeper into the Salish to sea, through these gorgeous islands to meet a new friend on a distant island in the San Juans. 

I know.  None of what I had planned will get done.  None of my chores will be accomplished. But I will see many islands.  I will eat good seafood.  I will make a new friend.  And why? Because I am going to die.  But first, I am going to live!

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