jusummerhayes

Getting our affairs in order

Photo by Mike Castro Demaria on Unsplash
Photo by Mike Castro Demaria on Unsplash

“Dying is active. Dying is not what happens to you. Dying is what you do.”
― Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul

Once again, sleep eluded me.

I could have risen just after 3 am but I persevered and left it until just before 5 am.

This title and perhaps some of the text — it's difficult to remember now (5.41 am) — was idly, as I struggled to sleep, swimming around my head.

Sadly, it's a fairly foreboding title, but I imagine, if my sister-in-law's conversation with my wife is anything to go by (she's a solicitor who does Wills & Probate), that it's a fair reflection of what's happening in the UK right now: 

"...I'm busier than [I've] ever been."

And, surely, that's understandable?

No one wants to die without a Will or not having put their affairs in order?

As I said the other day on Twitter, I'm not afraid of dying — truly — but I do fear the consequences, leaving behind my wife to look after and raise our three children (23, 21 and 16). But this post, as much as I might like to rehearse, in a non-legal way, what you might or should consider doing, is tilted at something a little more obscure.

Oh, God, here he goes again...😌

My point is this (and hence the above quote from perhaps my all-time favourite book): we shouldn't have to think of our 'affairs' as what happens after we're gone. 

They're now. 

Right in this moment.

You know the drill. 

“You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire…

How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!”

– Seneca, On The Shortness of Life

The trouble is, these sort of messages — I'm not a great fan of the stoics (too dark for me) — makes us think we've got to run around like crazed lunatics on speed maxing out. And that's great, as far as it goes. I mean, when I was 19/20 there's no way on this earth I would have been thinking about my mortality, still less my affairs. 

"Let 'er rip. Dying is for suckers." (I never spoke like that but you get my drift.)

But now?

Well, for starters, I'm much thoughtful about what a good day might look like. Not just that but I try, as best my spirit knows, to lean into the light, meaning I try not to be swallowed whole by my shadow self, which is replete with negative self-talk, and/or largely ego-driven sh*t that pulls me down and down to a level that, eventually, brings about a form of stasis. Instead, and I wrote about it the other day, I orientate myself around doing fewer things with greater focus. 

Again, though, what does getting our affairs in order really mean? Is it just about doing? Surely, as well, it's about considering the true meaning of life and how you might usefully apply the time that's left to you, which, as Stephen Jenkinson writes so beautifully about, is to Die Wise

What does that mean? 

Well, I think it means a number of things. 

Firstly, you openly talk about death. Yes, it's an uncomfortable subject, but one that should be part of the landscape of any domestic situation, and not one left to the end of life. I know that's easier said than done but having worked in the funeral business, you'd be amazed how many people talk about death as if it was never going to happen: "I can't believe [name] has gone"

Secondly, we should see death as a deity in the same way that we see god or whatever faith you have, even if you have no faith. This isn't some small 'b' Buddhist incantation. This is simply to recognise that death doesn't take from us as much as it gives life. How so? Well, think about the soil that we so religiously rely upon. Absent the death of those one-time living things, it simply wouldn't exist. It's not, of course, just about earth-bound substances, it's also the coursing and deliverance of the deceased's spirit. You know that sense that we're never alone: I feel the presence of my late uncle almost as strongly now as I did when he was alive.

And lastly, how we Die Wise, should be just as profound as the way we live. Imagine it. Someone taps you on the shoulder and tells you exactly the number of days, hours and minutes you've got left. How then would you live? Would you live any different to now? That's a real question by the way, and not theoretical. 

In the end, as I say ad nauseam, I'm not out to do anything more than share my musings. Yes, I can be prone to the odd bit of cheerleading, exhortation and excoriation, but I'm not you and have no way of knowing whether my journey of self-enquiry mirrors or is in any way on the same page as yours. However, one thing I know for sure is that understanding who we are — Who am I? — is not just a catchy slogan or another personal development mantra, it's where, eventually, from my limited experience of helping others to navigate the travails of life, we all end up. And, frankly, even if your journey within arrives at the point where you say "I don't know who I am", that's a whole heap better than taking your cue from the cultural norms (or they were normal until very recently) and to constantly strive to be all you can be. As to where death fits in the mix, well to me it's centre stage. In fact, it's as much of life as life is of itself.

I hope that I can be excused the slightly rushed way I've tried to develop this idea, and I'd love to know what you think, particularly as regards the influence of the current pandemic in making you consider, I hope, how life might be different on the other side (of the pandemic, not when we're gone!) — which, of course, it may never be.

Blessings for now, and much love,

Ju.

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