A New Year’s Resolution: Think About Death Every Day

Yesterday I attended a webinar themed, “New Year’s Resolutions, Jewish Style” led by David and Chana Mason.

In Judaism, there is the custom of wishing another person, “May you live until 120.” The number signifies the fullness of a life well lived – derived from the Biblical account that “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigour unabated.” (Deut. 34:7)

While we tend to set new year’s resolutions looking forward, David and Chana invited us to think about what we would like our lives to be like at 120 and then to work back from there:

Imagine yourself on your 120th birthday. You’re on your deathbed. Who are you surrounded by? Think about all of the people who are surrounding you, all of the people who are with you, all your loved ones. And imagine that someone asks you about your life and you reply, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t change a thing.’ Think about your ideal life. The life you want to be living if everything from this moment until that day at 120 went perfectly for you, the best you could have imagined. And ask yourself: What has your life been about? What was it that you have done to make your life an absolutely wonderful experience? What was it that you’ve done so that you really feel like you fully lived and fully contributed in exactly the way that you wanted to do so?

From here, we worked backwards contemplating what our life might look like at different stages since, “If you know the destination, your process of deciding the next steps is entirely different. You may take an entirely different approach if you have this destination in mind.”

Anticipating objections, David then said, “Now, people sometimes ask me, ‘But don’t destinations change? How do you know what is going to be? You may completely change course.’ And that’s totally fine. But without starting toward the first destination, you might never figure out what’s coming up next.”

He proceeded to give the analogy of a person who decides to summit a mountain. It could be that, as you are climbing, you cross over a ridge and discover a beautiful lake that makes you decide that you no longer want to go after the peak at all. The crucial point is that you would not have come upon the lake at all had you not set out to summit the mountain in the first place. And so, contemplating the end is not a matter of having a fixed vision but rather guaranteeing that the course is intentional. “What matters is that you will be moving in that momentum,” David explained.

Do we know what our lives are about?

Are we living in that momentum toward a vision for our lives? A vision mindful of the end, of death?

Even if I do not quite know what my life is about, I know that I will die. This is something to contemplate for a few reasons: First, because it is a certainty; second, because we do not know when it will come; and finally, because knowledge that we have a limited time can help us live differently, to live better.

In the midst of discovering what our futures are for, considering the end can give vision and direction to the course of our lives.

I have often found that people who have near-death experiences have the greatest insight into what their life is about because these experiences bring into focus their destination.

Death brings tremendous clarity to what our lives are about. And for this reason, I resolve to blog about death every day throughout 2021 – that it may be an enlivening year.

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