What on Earth are you doing?
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, this may be a question a lot of people are asking themselves because, just as near-death experiences often lead to a renewed appreciation for every day that dawns, it is common for those who unexpectedly lose loved-ones to want to find some way of making their loss serve some wider purpose; and for those fortunate enough to be untouched by such tragedy to wonder whether they are making the most of the time they have.
I once saw a documentary programme on self-motivation in which the participants were taken around a graveyard and invited to contemplate how fortunate they were to be alive. I must confess that this would not have worked on me, as I have always been very uncomfortable in such places. However, even though the last 10 years has been an absolute disaster personally-speaking, contemplating what happened 10 years ago – the loss of life and the unending grief of those left behind – helps me to retain some reasonable perspective regarding my personal situation.
If and when you know what you want to do with your life (i.e. what your purpose is), it is important to set yourself achievable, incremental, goals. However, it is also important to live in the present; as if each day might be your last (hence the “graveyard therapy” I guess). Are these two things reconcilable? I don’t know. In any case, it has taken me a very long time to find my vocation and, regrettably, it took the breakdown of my marriage for me to have the courage (and freedom) to realise I had not been doing what I really wanted to do for a very long time…
Therefore, I say:
— To those of you who have been personally affected by the events of 10 years ago – you have my heartfelt sympathy;
— To those of you who struggle with feelings of restlessness, aimlessness, and/or depression – I know how you feel;
— To those of you who think you have worked it out now – be strong and courageous in pursuing your new goal(s); and
— To those of you who have known all along – what do you want; a medal?
One of the most thoughtful moments in the film Gladiator (even if inadvertently so) may be the one in which the late Oliver Reed (in his last role) says “Ultimately, we are all dead men”. John Maynard Keynes originally put it slightly better, I think, when he cautioned about taking the long view by saying: “In the long run, we are all dead” (see this excellent piece by Mark Cancellieri). Then of course there is Dead Poets’ Society and its memorable injunction to us all to “Carpe diem” – seize the day!
Finally, on a slightly lighter note, I was very privileged to be able to trek to Everest Base Camp in November 2008 (it was however a shame I had to get divorced first); and very impressed when the Trek-leader made us pause and reflect with the words: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift; that is why we call it ‘the present’”. I was later amused to find out that he had first heard this quote (albeit from Jung) when watching Kung Fu Panda!