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During their lives, humans come to dread their mortality. Fear paints over the truth that death, like our journey through life, is an inevitable, natural progression. And we spend too much of our precious time dwelling on our demise instead of living. Death is never a matter of if, but when.
I confess to three distinct phases I’ve lived/am living through regarding my thoughts about mortality. First, the blissful ignorance of youth, buoyed by a “nothing can happen, I’m going to live forever” attitude. Then came middle age, where aches and pains and odd body issues flared, causing panic-fueled angst to burrow in and take root. Now, in the pragmatic phase, I don’t look forward to or desire death, but accept it without fear.
What prompted pondering leading to this post were two reads from yesterday:
First, a New York Times article about John Mellencamp, a rebel whose music influenced me in my youth. His current photo captioned “71-year-old Mellencamp…” prompted me to realize I’m in good shape at 70! Granted, he certainly lived a wilder and more “exciting” life than I have. Compared to his photo, I look like 50 (ish... yeah, right...)!
The second came from David Whyte’s Substack posted poem “Mortality My Mistress.” He is one of my favorite poets and philosophically influencing silent mentors. David’s a Welsh-born wonder I’ve followed for years. His command of language and phrasing is magical, and his works not only inspire but trigger deep thoughts and connections. I’ve shared a portion of this poem at the end, but encourage you to read it in its entirety.
I don’t know if my current acceptance of mortality is common or not with others of elder persuasion. I believe life (spirit, soul, being) does not die when the material body does. This concept helps my acceptance of the eventual and frees me from fear numbing my thinking so I can enjoy the journey. This freedom allows me to fully embrace my self-care routines, thus improving my odds of living out my years in quality and happiness.
Many people I know hold the opposite belief that life is terminal and ends with the body’s demise. I’ve watched them lament the passing of parents and offspring, never changing their grief from day one to ten years later. So strong is this belief and their inability to move on that I suspect it’s holding them back from living fully.
I didn't write this post intent on convincing anyone of my beliefs. Sharing my thoughts here in hopes it helps others accept mortality’s shadow... not as a darkness to fear, nor as one to stop us from fully living the rest of our years.
And their mortality is like my mortality,
a hidden lover
with whom we have woken,
to those outside,
from the waking day.
- David Whyte, "Mortality My Mistress" from River Flow: New & Selected Poems: Revised Edition (or here on Substack)