The words we tell ourselves matter. You know this, I know this, and every coach worth the dough they paid to get certified knows this. I’m going to get all persnickety though and say it’s the verbs that usually matter the most. Verbs specify the action we want to commit to, rather than just musing about intentions that go nowhere in a hurry. Verbs can beautifully clarify what we want to do and how we want to be while we’re doing the thing we long to do. You’re nodding with me, right?
So all this got me thinking in the pseudo-morbid way I’m wont to do: how do I want to describe the way I’m approaching my inevitable, no way out alive, eventual death?
Here’s how I know I don’t want to describe my Journey to the Crematorium:
Tippy toeing towards death. This would mean I wasn’t Living with a capital L, and it also has the unmistakable, unappealing stench of fear. We don’t tippy toe when we’re being bold. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” said poet Dylan Thomas, and I’d tattoo that into my flesh but there are just too many words for it to look fashionable.
Passively waiting to die. This would mean I wasn’t actively embracing all the highs and lows and guts and glories that life had to offer. Passively passing time would mean I watched a lot of TV and didn’t grab life by its proverbial balls (oh jeez, we just got a subscription to Hulu, too. ‘Passive’ is a verb I must fight till my bitter end, I just know it).
Ignorantly meeting death. This would mean I didn’t wrap my arms around the memento mori concept I profess ad nauseum — you know: contemplating death on the regular to help put our finite time in perspective. Obliviously smacking into the wall of death at the end feels like a missed opportunity to intentionally savor life through the well-managed lens of scarcity.
Spiraling towards death. While I like the implication of action associated with spiraling, this verb would mean I careened without control — and as we all know, EVERY PART OF LIFE MUST BE IN COMPLETE CONTROL AT ALL TIMES — EVEN WHEN WE’RE IN HOSPICE. Kidding! Mostly kidding! Spoken like a former eating-disordered perfectionist! But really: I don’t want militant control in my life, but I also don’t want to wobble like an out-of-control rocket ship until I kick the bucket.
“Arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,” as Hunter S. Thompson says. This would mean I cared more about living “responsibly” (translation: living by the rules at the expense of most of the fun), which sounds like a total snooze-fest of a life. I tend to over-appreciate rules and I very much value safety and security, so I’m particularly inspired by the rest of Thompson’s quote, which is my official answer for how I want to approach death (and please note the delicious verbs):
I want to “skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’.”
Skidding in broadside means more than getting over my fear of skinning my knees; it’s about being willing to take risks and play full-out. Thoroughly using myself up and wearing myself out means I will have fully participated in life, instead of watching from the sidelines, wistfully murmuring that “I could’ve done so much more” at the end. Loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!” means (other than running the risk of being really obnoxious on my deathbed) that I astonished myself with how I spent my Mondays — however many I’ll have racked up at the end.
How do YOU want to describe the way you’re approaching your own demise?
I’m partying like it’s 1999 until I die.
I’m gracefully dancing towards death.
I’m flirting with death while coyly keeping it at bay.
I’m actively grabbing life by whatever it is I want to grab it by (cojones, the hand, whatever).
I’m peacefully welcoming death when the time is right (but hopefully not soon).
I’m carpe-diem-ing all of my Mondays.
I’m sucking out all the marrow of life, just like Henry David Thoreau advised.
I’m doing this life justice.
I’m wrestling with the Grim Reaper to keep him at bay and I’m totally winning.
I’m living today like there is no tomorrow.
I’m boldly going into that good night.
Guys, we’ve all purchased one-way tickets to the Grim Reaper’s dinner party, and so it’s up to us how we use the time until he rings the dinner bell. I encourage you to pick the phrase that inspires you to live a little wider and deeper, and repeat it often. Choose your verbs, just like your life, carefully. I’m off to thoroughly use myself up!
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