While in therapist school one of the exercises involves crafting your own timeline. You are asked to include major milestones, family members, significant events, and whatnot. This timeline isn’t just a history rehearsal, but is carried into the future – projected milestones and deaths of important people and family members. The idea is to review the people and events that have shaped your history, and then to “look into your future” and anticipate other shaping events. Writing down the actuarial expected dates of others’ deaths can be eye opening, revealing both their mortality and the relatively nearness of that mortality.
This interest in mortality is not limited to therapy students however. The Christian tradition, especially the monastic schools also appreciate acknowledging and accepting death – one’s own. This has a number of affects. One is that we must face our mortality and grasp it as real. No matter how well we may feel at the moment, or how well life is working for us right now, we will die. We will not be able to avoid it. This realization is intended to help us let go of our own plans; our own egos that seek to live forever. In remembering that we are mortal, we can both acknowledge that we are not God and our lives are relatively short.
We have some choices to make. Knowing our mortality, we can go for the gusto and leave behind only those things that will perish and fade – money, houses, cars, stuff. Alternatively, we can let our mortality move us toward more permanent endeavors – other people, dispersing grace, growing into the likeness of God, showing compassion. These will not fade but will last far past our own deaths.
During Lent we have a chance to reflect on our own mortality, to correct our direction, to pursue values that actually mean something. We don’t have forever; many of us don’t have much time at all. When we come to our moment of death, what will become of us? What will become of you?