I don’t know about you, but when I see people go through life changing situations or near death experiences, I think to myself what would I do if I was in that position? And then, it triggers another thought: What am I doing with my life right now? Do I feel accomplished and fulfilled?
Death serves as a reminder how important it is not to take your life, or the blessings in your life, for granted.
Nothing lasts forever
There is story from many years ago, where King Solomon wants to humble his minister and the King actually ends up learning a very important lesson about humility and how short life really is; one that resonates with us so many years later.
Some of you might be familiar with this story, it goes a little like this:
“Solomon orders his minister to find a magic ring that has the ability to turn a happy man sad, and a sad man happy; Solomon of course knew there is no ring that wielded such a godly power. Months go by and Solomon’s minister is still in search for the ring.
One day, he stumbles upon a merchant. He decides to try his luck and describes the ring to this man. The merchant glances at a gold ring he owns and puts an engraving onto it. The minister pays the merchant with a huge smile on his face as he reads the engraving, believing he had finally completed his task. Upon returning, Solomon amusedly asks for the ring. The smile from King Solomon quickly faded as he held the ring in his palm and read the engraving, 4 simple words:
“This too shall pass.”
This very phrase shook Solomon’s core and at that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust. In life, everything is temporary and Solomon realised how true that was.”
Like Solomon, when we are enjoying life’s rewards we get so caught up in our excitement and the fact that our time on earth is numbered, doesn’t really cross our minds. We all know we are going to die one day, but when you are too busy reaping the rewards life brings, many do not pause and take a moment of reflection.
“This too shall pass” can arouse separate feelings.
It can be an uncomfortable phrase as you are enjoying life’s pleasures and blessings, or it can be very comforting if you are currently facing storms in your life, as this phrase serves as a glimmer of hope that the storms will eventually subside. However, the most important point here is that it makes us pause and reflect; we have to enjoy all good moments of our life, the little things, the time with our family and friends, a smile, a laugh, holidays, our work and to be grateful for all things that make us happy.
Furthermore, we should remember every time we face a difficult situation in our life, sooner or later this too shall pass. Use the wisdom of the ring to hold onto hope and faith and remember that even the worst of the storms eventually subsides.
King Solomon had everything - power, women, and wealth. He realized that holding onto things is an illusion as they are not the source of happiness. So he turned to a spiritual search and wrote:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”... What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
The key message is that everything in life is temporary, when good things happen be happy, celebrate, but most importantly be humble and practise the art of gratitude. Remember that other people may not be as fortunate as you so always be grateful when life rewards you.
Tragedy and Perspective
Death is a powerful and solemn reminder that nothing is ever permanent and it puts into perspective how short life really is. It shatters your illusion of permanence and its presence reminds us that no matter what we do throughout our life, we will one day turn to dust.
And yet with this in mind, how many of us out there simply do not care, or have become complacent with their lives that they don’t take care of themselves even when they are faced with their own mortality? I remember my friend telling me a story about a young man that came to the hospital for a check-up and it turns out the Drs were looking for cancer as he was a heavy smoker, smoking up to 11 packets a day.
His test results eventually came back as negative, and you would think having such a close brush with death would make this young man evaluate his life, and make some changes to optimise his health. Unfortunately, he decided to continue smoking 11 packets of cigarettes a day, the doctor’s saw that as a sign that this young man valued smoking more than his own life. We see this same type of behaviour every day. People do things that are bad for themselves and bad for their health, and when it lands them in life or death situations, they are faced with 2 options: continue going down this self-destructive path or start making changes.
More than likely only a handful take this scare as a solemn sign to start changing their lifestyle. There are those that ignore the signs the universe, and their bodies, are telling them and they end up becoming their own worst enemy- they continue smoking heavily despite being diagnosed with cancer or they continue eating unhealthily despite warnings from doctors that they have a high chance of dying from heart disease.
Sometimes humans can be their own worst enemy as some knowingly contribute to their own demise by refusing to change. It’s different if someone is trying to change but are having difficulties succeeding- they are conscious of the impact of their actions and are doing their best to change in order to survive.
Back in 2010, when Andy Whitfield, the star of Spartacus, was diagnosed with cancer he and his wife decided to get matching tattoos that read ‘Be here now’. This served as a reminder that it’s all about being fully present in our lives and not fearing or worrying about what the future will bring. He passed away in 2011 but those words still ring true, we need to be fully present in our lives and value the gift of life, as we don’t know when our time on earth is up.
I remember when American journalist, Scott Simon, tweeted about his mother’s imminent death to his millions of followers. It may sound morbid and a little unsettling to some, but his moving tweets were extremely powerful. Here are a few that stood out to me:
July 27, 6:41am: “No real sleep tonight. But songs, poems, memories, laughs. My mother: Thank you God for giving us this night and each other”.
July 28, 2:02pm: “Listen to people in their 80s. They have looked across the street at death for a decade. They know what’s vital.”
And his final message:
July 29, 817pm: “The heavens over Chicago have opened and Patricia Lyons Simon Newman has stepped onstage”.
These stories are one of many where perilous situations causes life to be cut short and our friends or loved ones are taken away by illness, violence, natural disasters and accidents.
From Ancient Rome we have been given the phrase ‘Me Mento Mori’- remember death, you see this phrase carved on their many statues. Being mindful of death was prominent among the Ancient Romans and Greeks, it wasn’t something they hid from or brushed away.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross calls death a “highly creative force…facing death means facing the ultimate question of the meaning of life. If we really want to live we must have the courage to recognize that life is ultimately very short, and that everything we do counts”.
Someone once wrote “life is so precious than rather than allowing the sands of time to slip through our hands, we have to seize the moment”. Often it takes some calamity for us to realise the fragility of life, it shouldn’t be that way.
Arianna Huffington said that by “allowing the reality of death into our everyday reality can keep us veering off course.” We shouldn’t have to go through a massive amount of pain to open our eyes and see the beauty in everyday things and what we have.
Life is a gift, no one should be taking it for granted so when we are faced with our mortality and our body is telling us to change our lifestyle, we shouldn’t be taking that chance for granted as there are many people out there who do not get the same chance.
When life strikes us with setbacks, when we are down and everything seems grim, we need to remember that this too shall pass.
“Seize the day. Understand that nothing is ever permanent and internalise that message.”
Don’t take your health, families, jobs, or friends for granted, or even the sheer fact that we should be so fortunate to see a sunrise when so many people don’t get that opportunity.
You see, we often get so caught up in our busy lives that we tend to forget just how important it is to truly live and experience each and every moment in its simplicity.
Tomorrow is not given, it is a hope.
Be thankful for your blessings and how fortunate you are to be alive and healthy, a gift denied too many.
While life is not a given and tomorrow might not come, I can still keep moving forward and do what I can within my control to live a happy and healthy life despite what challenges I might face.
“If you can’t fly then run,
if you can’t run then walk,
if you can’t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do,
you have to keep moving forward.”
~Martin Luther King Jr.
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