That other certainty…reflections on the fact that one day I won’t be here

I went to work at the Department today as I have on almost every other day since February 2007. I had no concerns for my safety or welfare. I certainly didn’t think that today might be my last on Earth – who does? I spent the morning working, somewhat ironically, on risk management. I bought a sandwich for lunch from the cafe on the ground floor. I was peeved at the woman who served me as she was rather aggressive and rude. I got upstairs with my sandwich. It had smoked salmon and capers and some kind of cream cheese. Hungrily I bit into it and suddenly realised everything was wrong. I was choking on my sandwich! Not just one of those little things where you inhale a bit of your water or something but the kind of situation which could have ended badly. Thankfully it didn’t. I coughed and spluttered quite impressively and made some comment to my supervisor about having needed a risk management plan for eating lunch. I didn’t think I was in a lot of danger but it did remind me of something we humans don;t think about -our own mortality.

I think people can only function because we do that subconscious turning off of our thoughts about death most of the time. It is very unusual that I walk down the street and think ‘I wonder if I’ll die today?’ If I did I might be paralysed by fear and avoid doing anything. Of course some people would be wise to be a little more conscious of risk but for most of us I think that switching off of the knowledge that we will not always be here enables us to get out of bed and do useful things with our lives.

When I was in my twenties I put myself in so many extremely dangerous situations due to my involvement with criminal peer groups and having a serious mental illness but i was almost unaware of my mortality. Like a lot of young people I couldn’t connect cause to potential effect and didn;t think much about the future.  It seems strange that in another universe, as a forty-soemthing home-owning public servant with very little danger or risk in my life that I find myself wondering about the inevitable day when thee is no more Jeanette. I have found over the past year (my first year in my forties) that I have become quite reflective about many things, icnluuing thinking about death and the fact it will actually happen to me at some point.

For me the thoughts of mortality can be quite motivating. As a driven, ambitious workaholic, I look at my life and realise that I will not have enough time to complete all the things I want and need to. I have been an Autism advocate for ten years and I have a lot more people to talk to I think. I have a theory that one should aim to leave the world a little bit better because of what you have done. I know I’m going to speak to but a small proportion of the world’s people but I want to make sure what I say is helpful, positive and supports others to live well and value themselves. That idea that I should be a force for good is a very strong motivator to me.

The wish for immorality through fame is always a fascinating thing. I regret to admit that I have a little of that somewhere in my makeup. I sometimes want people to know for the great things I might do for years after I die. This is foolish though. I mean take someone like Frank Sinatra. He was very very famous in his day. A number of people know of him now but I wonder how many people younger than me know who he was? How about in a hundred years’ time? A thousand? So immortality through fame is a bit of a myth because as time goes on less people know who you were. It;s not really immortality at all, more stretching out the inevitable for a bit. It also seems a fairly ego-driven dream.

So  all of these reflections bring me to the point I always come to when thinking about the relative brevity of my tenure on Earth: the miracle that I exist at all and the priceless value of my – and everyone else’s – life. I spent the first twenty-five years of my life oblivious to my own value and the preciousness of my life. I made stupid, wrong, negative choices and harmed others along with myself. My life was worthless to me then and could so easily have been lost. Because of this, I look back and think of every day I have had for the past sixteen years as being a bonus, something extra which I probably shouldn’t have been given but was. So this is why I am driven and determined to use what time I have to make a difference in the world. But I would love a few more lifetimes to do all I want and need to in order to improve the world. Oh but yes, how I would. That would be amazing.

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OK I’m not sure about the image from Floriade but I guess it symbolises memory

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