‘Before I die’ – these are words which have touched me deeply from time to time. Having turned 70 this year, and been shocked by the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood and others – all younger than me – I have paused and thought about these words again; not in shock or horror, nor in surprise at something I’ve never considered; I’ve thought about death quite often and long ago concluded that though the process of dying may turn out to be deeply unpleasant I have no fear of death itself.
Despite being deeply reluctant to go – all sorts of exciting and wonderful things may happen after I’m gone, and I’ve always hated missing anything – I know whatever comes after will be a fulfilment of everything my heart has ever yearned for; a beauty greater than anything this world holds, peace and wholeness beyond all understanding, and a depth of loving joy no words of mine can possibly express.
I believe our mortality is a gift, and I long to learn to use it aright. The knowledge that I have only a limited time on this earth should be an incentive to identify the point and focus of my life and make the most of the years I have left.
‘Before I die’ – before I leave behind the friends who give me so much joy, the music and books which give me so much pleasure; the many places I love; I should ask, ‘What do I really want to do should all other responsibilities and tasks fall away?’
There’s no notable achievement I want to succeed at. I don’t want to go rushing off to have adventures, or fill my remaining days with danger, thrills and excitement. No, I don’t have that kind of ‘bucket list’, but I do have a rather personal – and possibly unexciting sounding – list:
I need to take out the failures and regrets I’ve hidden in the back cupboards of my mind and do something about them, even if it’s just to let them go. Even those which cannot be repaired must be properly acknowledged and released from the secrecy and denial which has bound them to me for so long. Others I want to act on, and know the release of finally doing whatever it is I’ve avoided, put off or just neglected.
So many people spend their lives ‘living and partly living’1. They waste the joys which surround them. They don’t appreciate and treasure them as the priceless riches they are, taking their friends, all that they are and all they give, for granted, forgetting in their busyness how precious true understanding and fellowship is.
So, in the time I have before I die I want to be fully aware of each present moment, how to give myself to it and receive its riches into the depths of my being. I want to learn how to give myself more generously to my friends and receive what they offer me with the true thankfulness and honour it deserves.
‘Before I die’ – Is there a new place I want to go and see? I know there are many wonderful sights on this beautiful world of ours. I’ve been to British Columbia, Finland and Sweden, but no other place pulls me quite as New Zealand did and still does. So I would love to return there with time to visit the regions I didn’t see, time to go back to the beauties and wonders I want to understand more fully, time to gaze at scenes glimpsed in passing which teased me with their mysterious possibilities, and time to fill a treasure house with the particular and peculiar of that special land. I’d love to see the uniqueness of Iceland – our living planet expressed in the interaction of ice and fire. But I know these are impossible dreams, and I’m glad to see their beauties second-hand through the wonders of modern technology.
But more important than those distant places are the intimate beauties of my own place; before I die I want to fill my memory with them. I want to absorb the details of every season as they pass and apply a fixative to them so they will never be forgotten. I want to visit the places which made me who I am, learn them again and understand them from the perspective of this moment.
‘Before I die’ – I want to fill my ears with marvellous melodies, and my mind with the stories and images of great wordsmiths; the glorious sound of words richly used in an attempt to express the inexpressible. I want to grasp the beauty and wonder of our cosmos and the infinities it holds, and feel my mind expand with new ideas and new knowledge, and not worry if these days I can’t remember them for long.
‘Before I die’ – I want to use words of my own to share the riches I’ve experienced in the last seventy years, words which might waken other hearts, and stretch other minds in directions not found on any compass. I have no desire for fame or glory – it doesn’t matter if the world at large knows nothing of my existence, but I want to offer these things to those whose hearts are receptive to wonder and knowledge. I’d love to know they have the fire of understanding in their hearts and the glow of delight in their eyes, so that all the riches of our existence become doubly precious to us in the sharing.
1 T.S.Eliot Murder in the Cathedral
‘Before I Die’ was a homework title given in 2010, but recently I felt led to rewrite it.