Thursday, July 10, 2008

With the end in mind

Thomas à Kempis’s first book, The Imitation of Christ, especially the closing three chapters, speaks of the importance of beginning with the end in mind. That is, think deeply and often when alone about the day of your death.

I’ve found it helpful to meditate on Kempis’s question, “How do you want to meet God?”

To do this, not once, but as a habit of life, in union with several others, creates a sense of excitement and mission about all that we do. Our thoughts, feelings, energy, and choices matter.

Yet how many never give serious thought to the end of their life? Oh, they think they do so—they give thought, often excessively, to the way they would like to finish their years in some supposedly blissful retirement. Then, they tell themselves, I’ll do what I really want—live in a nice home, travel, write, invest, whatever. Yes, we must wait for all good things. But why wait until the end of life, when the body is frail and the mind may not be as sharp?

One woman, whose husband’s health was failing rapidly, lamented to my wife and me: “He promised we’d travel the world together after he retired. We’ve taken only one trip, and now he can hardly walk” and would soon be gone. Her sorrow over all that might have been shook me.

Ever since, I’ve made no apology of spending time with my wife, traveling, a day here, two days there, a week in southern Florida, two weeks in Europe, additional weeks trekking in the Alps, the Amazon, the Andes, the Sahara desert, the ever planning (not just dreaming) of traveling together again. We may not traverse the whole planet before my health is gone, but my wife won’t be able to say we didn’t try, throughout our life, not just at the end.

The same goes for other dreams, goals, desires—if they’re part of our mission, our life’s adventure, I see no reason to wait (until it’s almost too late) to go after them, heart and soul.

Pity the person who never decides to live, whose chief excitement is daydreaming, who never dares to passionately pursue his or her plans now, today, this year, the next five years, before it’s too late and our family and friends lament what might have been.

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