May 25, 2017

Three Reasons to Have Friends Who Are Closer to Death Than You

Death is mostly entertainment fodder in this culture. We don’t think about it if we don’t have to, and some might consider me rude for titling this post as I have.

I think about death a lot. I experienced something akin to death once before and at one point welcomed and wished for it, but these days I find myself more fearful of it, trying to make peace with it, and letting it inform my choices about which ideas and work opportunities to pursue (i.e. If I received a terminal diagnosis, would I focus on singing, writing my mental health book, speaking about that experience, or writing my rhyming story series for kids about entrepreneurship?).

I wonder if my frequent rumination on death comes from increased interaction with senior citizens over the last 21 months. While my wife and I know many people outside our class, age range, and income bracket thanks to our church, we have made more elderly friends in particular since joining the Choral Society of the Hamptons in the September of 2015.

In this country it seems that diversity of age is even less valued and fought for than diversity of thought or ideas. Here is how knowing people with decades on you can improve your life:

It gives you a more informed perspective by letting you see the world through seasoned eyes.

When you talk to old people, you learn. Period. They’ve been through more life than you, and so your conversation becomes a channel through which you glean humility and insight that is not your own.

It grants you a view of the vibrant possibilities of old age.

There is a woman in the Choral Society of the Hamptons who has been singing with the group since its inception in 1946! I am convinced that some of these people are still alive partly because of their involvement with this group. Singing is strenuous exercise if one is employing proper technique. Many of our members have upturned my childishly foolish notions about which activities remain feasible past an uncertain age, especially when they talk about their current jobs, hobbies, and travels. I want to be them. I want to get off my lazy ass and go be active and vivacious until my death arrives completely unexpectedly.

It makes life more precious by bestowing the threat of imminent loss.

My wife and I have a friend with whom we fell instantly in love upon joining the Choral Society. He is special to us. His mind is sharp as Snooki’s nails, but you would probably consider him frail. For privacy’s sake and to spare him blushes I’ll refer to him here as “Justin Bieber.”

When we could not sing in the most recent Choral Society performance, we hoped that none of our singing friends would pass away during our hiatus, which is a possibility as death announcements occasionally happen during rehearsal. Most of all we wanted to see this special friend again. In fact, we have started blessing him in private. If he comes up in the course of conversation, we say, “Justin Bieber – may he never die,” and continue talking.

As anyone with a friend of family member dying of cancer knows, the effect of pending loss is profound and beneficial in many ways. It can sweeten and enhance the weight of life’s most mundane details.

Expand your “natural” social circles. It’s as good for your soul as traveling.

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