Not many of us have a ‘planned exit’ so I suppose it brings to the fore the broader question of what are we doing with the time we are given. The great wizard, Gandalf, said something very much like this in response to Frodo’s regret that he ended up with the ring of power and all the troubles it had brought.
Frodo: "I wish none of this had happened."
Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Wow! “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." Sounds straight forward enough. But therein lies the tension. On the one hand, we are to live as if there is no tomorrow and on the other we are to live as if we are going to live forever. Well, at least for many tomorrows.
Somewhere along the line we midlife men become aware that death is a higher probability for us tomorrow than it was yesterday; that it is lurking somewhere ‘out there’ in the shadows just outside our ability to grasp. Yet, this awareness does not solve the tension. It stirs it up.
How does one live 100% today as if there is no tomorrow and yet live with an eye on the many tomorrows that are likely before us?
For us gatherer-types who tend to be more focused on storing up for tomorrow, this is a particularly difficult balance to achieve, much less maintain day-by-day. It’s contrary to our nature and life habits. It’s related to the discussion in my last blog – having it both ways when you can’t have it both ways. Only in this case, you best do it both ways.
If we knew the day of our exit, we could plan our days leading up to it with considerably more efficiency. I mean, if I knew that I would be dead two years from now, to the day, I don’t think I would put so much emphasis on paying off debts and saving for a lengthy retirement. I would certainly reduce the number and kinds of things that make my life complicated and more stressful than it needs to be.
Would I quit my job? I think my biggest gripe about my job is that I have to have one. Would I feel more liberated if I did not have to have one? Can I live with one as if I don’t have to have it?
Would I stop exercising to keep healthy? Would I watch what I eat? Or drink? I mean, who cares about eating healthy if you’re going to die in a couple of years? Why pay my debts? Why not max out my debts to really live?
In many ways, the tension keeps us honest. The now is a certainty, but tomorrow is a probability. Thus, dreams and hopes are lodged in tomorrow. If I knew in advance my exit date, then there is little need to dream or hope. I would simply select my desired outcomes and focus on those things that will deliver them. No over-allocation of time and effort towards things that don’t matter.
The way it is, I’m working to deliver tomorrows that may not even be mine – a serious misuse of resources. But that simply is not the way it is. While I may find myself bemoaning my reality as Frodo did, my friend Gandalf will give me the same piece of advice:
"So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
We have to decide each day what to do with the time given us. Each day we move closer to that exit. The people, activities, and events of each day consume our days, and thus, our lives, but it is in our hands to choose what these will be.
About the Author: Master Hobbit