Thanksgiving always makes me think of a wonderful quote from the diaries of Leonardo da Vinci, “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Your first reaction to reading something like this is probably to recoil, maybe say, “What the…huh?” Hang on, though. Think about it. Learning how to die is actually a pretty terrific life strategy. In fact, to have a truly fulfilling life, maybe you should have the Grim Reaper as your Life Coach.
Over the centuries the Reaper has gotten a bad rap, but the specter of death isn’t something to fear or deny. Yes, he may be the embodiment of Death, but Death is what gives Life definition. He is the tallyman who brings about the final summation of all that was your life. Therein lies the fear, not of death, but of not having truly lived. The Reaper stands holding the tape at the finish line, blows the final whistle, let’s you know the clock has run out, calls you in from the field when the last play is over. But, as any good coach will tell you, his true aim is to get inside your psyche and motivate you to your best performance while the game’s still on. It’s all in how you look at things.
Leonardo da Vinci understood the value of embracing death as a way to ensure a good life. For him the formula was simple, “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” Ernest Becker, winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Denial of Death,” believed the worst way to die was following an insignificant life. When the time comes that you are moments from death and supposedly your life flashes before your eyes, will you be happy at what you see? If that moment were to come tomorrow, would it be for you a “happy” death?
There can be no greater measure of a life well lived than to be able to face the prospect of death with a peaceful heart. What are the things about being alive that matter to you? Have you been true to your values? Have you lived your life in a way that makes you content that you’ve done your part?
As you give thanks this holiday, can you honestly say that if you were to die tomorrow, you would have no regrets for what you’ve done today, and in all the “todays” that came before? Are you living for today, embracing what your life is right now, giving thanks now, knowing that there is no guarantee how many more todays you have ahead?
When you think about your life and plan for your yet-to-be tomorrows, ask yourself, “What would it take for me to be okay with the thought of dying?” Are you there, yet? If not, what will it take to get you there?
Whatever it is that motivates you, for everyone there is one thing true for all. A life lived in a way that yields peace at the prospect of death is the ultimate individual human achievement. Be thankful this holiday for the blessings of your life and for the time yet ahead to seek a happy death.