Almost everyone has at some point heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.”
This idiom is, of course, intended to remind us that we cannot take any material possessions with us when we die.
It seems to me worthwhile to flip the phrase around to ask ourselves what we can “take” with us when we die.
If you think that you have an everlasting soul, then there are presumably both temporal and everlasting realities.
What difference would it make in our lives if we spent time regularly contemplating what we can/do “take with us” when we die?
What would it look like to add more eternal realities to our day-to-day?
“You can’t take it with you” is intended to give perspective and cultivate detachment.
Yet, it is only the first step. The next step is to sort out what it is that we can, in a sense, “take with us” and then to cultivate that in our lives.
A couple years ago, two of my friends who I greatly respect both recommended within a short time span of one another that I read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s book, My Father Left me Ireland.
I happened to read it during the 2019 federal election campaign.
These paragraphs, in particular, really struck me:
We are used to conceiving of the nation almost exclusively as an administrative unit. A nation is measured by its GDP, its merit is discovered in how it lands on international rankings for this or that policy deliverable. A nation may have a language, but the priority is to learn the lingua franca of global business. Our idea of doing something for the nation is reduced to something almost exclusively technical. Policy wonks are the acknowledged legislators of the world.
But there is nothing technical about the Rising. I see in the Rising that a nation cannot live its life as a mere administrative district or as a shopping mall; nations have souls. It’s a virtue when poetry colonizes our politics, even if today the situation is reversed. The life of a nation is never reducible to mere technocracy, just as the home cannot be, no matter how much we try to make it so. I see that nationality is something you do, even with your body, even with your death.
To some, the description of the nation as “an administrative unit” and “technocracy” might sound just right.
But, as is often the case, juxtaposition brings clarity and there is something attractive in the poetry of the irreducible and soulful idea of the nation about which Dougherty speaks.
If you died today, how would people find your office, your bedroom, your bookshelves?
What would happen with your email, your social media, your bank accounts?
Who would you have wanted to forgive? To pay back? To return to with gratitude?
Many people cannot die well because of leading lives that are not yet in any meaningful order.
Before I take a trip, I often organize my bedroom and office so that – were I to die during the trip – my possessions would reflect my priorities and the order in which I had them would (hopefully) be a reflection of my soul when I had left them.
“Putting our affairs in order” has become an idiom for a one-time event when, in fact, we are all meant to put our affairs into order each day.
Augustine even described peace as “the tranquility of order.”
And so, if we want to eventually rest in peace, then we’ll need to live our lives in order.