In This Episode: The rise of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is exceeded only by the fear it engenders. Yet Uncommon Sense tells us that fear is getting in the way of what we should be focusing on, not just in the face of the pandemic but always.
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- I mention my father: his business was “detecting” things: radioactivity (with Geiger counters), pipes (with metal detectors), etc. The company he created the logo for which still exists (as a division of a larger company) still sells detectors under the Detectron name, using the logo shown within the transcript below.
- The fifth volume of my Honorary Unsubscribe series was recently published. You can get the ebook or paperback from me, or from Amazon (the latter being cheapest if you’re outside the U.S.)
Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham.
I have a friend in California that loves going into deep-dive conversations. We chat once a month or so.
When I say “deep-dive,” I mean the conversation can go just about anywhere, but it’s certainly not silly stuff like the weather or gossip. Every call is meaty, and it keeps me on my feet because I know he’s smart, and he’s not interested in fluff.
This week, we talked about death. Not just because of COVID-19, but because Jeffrey knows I’m a medic, and have seen plenty of death up close. The discussion didn’t stay abstract for long, but I didn’t talk about patients or my experience of being with someone when they died, but rather he was fascinated about the obituaries I write — the Honorary Unsubscribes.
He’s not a Facebook dude, but I said pretty much anytime I post a link to an Honorary Unsubscribe, or other notice of someone interesting who had died recently, there were two kinds of typical responses. First, the “oh, how sad,” “tragic,” or “heartfelt condolences.” The second type is more along the lines of, “What a legacy!”, “A great life well lived,” or telling a memory of something the person did that they remember.
I’m in the second camp: I like to celebrate the accomplishments of those who lived their lives to the fullest. I don’t mourn their passing, because that’s the cycle of life. For me the question becomes, did they make the most of the time they did have?
About this point, Jeffrey started jumping up and down — metaphorically, at least — because he’s a life coach. I’m not a client of his; we met last year through a mutual friend. But this is exactly the sort of thing he works on with his clients, in a similar way that my wife, Kit, works with her clients as a coach. Her focus is “high performance,” which obviously depends on making the most of the time we have.
Being married to a coach, I know that the sort of person who pays for coaching is much more likely to be interested in what the coach has to say about all of this. But with COVID, I told Jeffrey, I’ll bet more are actually listening to his coaching on the topic. It’s not so abstract anymore as we watch the death count climb not just in foreign countries, which makes it more abstract, but among people near us, at least geographically if not someone we actually know.
In the past, I asked him, did they say “I don’t have to think about that now,” while in recent weeks are they saying “That’s something I need to think about now!”?
“Yes,” he said. “Exactly.” The present situation gives not just coaches an opening, but also people like me who work to get people to think about issues and legacy and how we make our mark on the world. The door on an uncomfortable subject that people mostly like to avoid is now unlocked, and they’re a bit more agreeable to open that door a little to contemplate what it’s all about. “We have an opportunity to get people to think about things like this,” I said, “when they normally wouldn’t.”
“That will absolutely be the nature of my conversations with people,” Jeffrey replied — “really, all the time going forward for awhile.” Though, I observed, when the dust settles, that door will probably close and lock again. “It’s not just the question of ‘are you living the kind of life you wanted to’ and what are you contributing to society,” he continued, but “if tomorrow is ‘the day,’ are you going to be OK with that? Life is short and there’s no promise of ‘tomorrow’” — before, during, or after COVID. That’s the nature of life in general. “I’ll continue to speak about it in the way I always have,” he said, but now those words are sinking in more.
“It’s just the fact that people are more open to the idea,” he said, and “being conscious that I can be more open with people, knowing that there’s a good possibility that they’re more connected to that part of themselves right now,” and can think about it, and make adjustments if necessary.
I asked Jeffrey how he counsels his clients to make such adjustments. “Just exactly what you were saying,” he said: “To be conscious of these very questions about what I’m doing with my life — every day. What I’m contributing to the people around me — every day. How I am interacting with myself, and the universe, and the world around me — every day. That’s the yardstick to use to assess what you did with your life. Instead of being the backdrop of ‘Oh, an emergency can happen to take you out.’ The reality is every one of us is going to face that departure time. So think about that, and then live your life with great joy and gusto. I want to feel I played hard and had fun and made a difference. It was enjoyable and fun and full of curiosity. All of that, all at the same time,” he said.
In other words, this isn’t something we need to think about because of COVID. This is something we need to think about again and again throughout our lives, up to every day. I’m just bringing it up now because more are willing to listen and think about this topic with the uncertainty COVID holds over all of our heads. Yet really, our chance of dying in the next week isn’t actually all that much greater than it would be without COVID.
Let me say that again: our chance of dying in the next week isn’t actually all that much greater than it would be without COVID. Though the chances go up the more you ignore the suggestion, or in some cases order, of social distancing.
Once you think through all of this fully, you can be “OK with that” if “tomorrow is ‘the day’.” I told Jeffrey that my own father, for instance, was fully human: he had his faults as well as his triumphs. But when he died, I think he was OK with it: he left his family with a legacy and many things to be proud of, even if we didn’t agree with everything he said or did because, well, no one agrees with everything anyone says or does, especially our parents!
But more than that, I said, I was OK with it: I didn’t mourn his death. Hell, he was 89 years old: he grew up during the depression and had a difficult childhood, and his schooling was interrupted by World War II, but he didn’t let those obstacles stop him. He took a risk and quit his job and started his own business because he saw opportunity, and did well with that, and was able to provide for his family. And I love it that one of the brands he created still exists, and the company that bought my dad out from that particular company — in 1965 — still uses the very same logo my dad drew by hand in the 1950s! I’ll include the logo on the Show Page.
So no, when he died, I didn’t mourn his death, I celebrated his life. I knew I’d miss being able to talk with him, but I didn’t really have anything to mourn.
See what I mean by a “deep-dive” conversation? Everyone should have a friend like that! And I have several, including my wife. Kit has a similar attitude. I remember when we visited her father just before he turned 94. By then he was pretty much always in a wheelchair: he couldn’t use a walker after he broke his arm. But he still held a good conversation and had quite a spark of life in him.
Still, I had a feeling, and when Kit and I got back in the car after the visit to start our six-hour drive home, I asked her: would she be OK with it if that was the last time she saw him?
She thought about it for a moment, and said yes. I said I do have a feeling that it would be the last time we’d see him, and she nodded: she was still fine with it if that’s what happened. And that’s what happened: he died about two weeks later.
And really, could either of our fathers have asked for anything better than that?
So I think the real question to ask yourself is not would you be OK with it if you died tomorrow, but would your kids, or grandchildren, or friends, or co-workers be so satisfied with how you lived that they would be OK with it?
And if not, what can you do in the time you have left to make that happen?
That’s something to think about for sure. Don’t let fear put your focus on death: focus on living a great life for whatever time you have, because you never know how long that is. Meanwhile, be sure to celebrate the accomplishments you do have — every day. Feel gratitude — every day. And work to be better — every day.
The fifth volume of my Honorary Unsubscribe book series, which celebrates the lives of 150 amazing people, was recently published. If you aren’t familiar with this feature of This is True, that book is the best place to start reading them: they’re the people you will wish you had known. I’ll link to it on the Show Page: it’s available both in paperback and ebook, directly from me or from Amazon.
The Show Page for this episode is thisistrue.com/podcast65, where you can comment, and make a contribution to keep the show going with no commercials interrupting the episodes. Even a few bucks help, and so do book purchases.
I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.
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