Let’s pretend that you and I meet on the street.
It’s a gorgeous day, the sun is shining. You’re having a good day. You’re walking to or from somewhere, having just said goodbye to someone or meeting someone soon, heading to work-school-gym-coffeehouse-library-mall-grocery-store. In your moment of “normal” I approach you, look in your face, smile, and hand you a black canvas bag.
Inside the bag is $750 million. SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION SMACKERS.
If someone handed ME a bag of money my first thought would be, “WHAAAAA?! NO WAY IS THIS HAPPENING,” but very quickly it would be followed with “…………wait. What’s the catch.” Set aside for a moment your likely skepticism. Also set aside the fact that the bag would weigh 1429 lbs (yes, I looked it up) and pretend the bag is surprisingly light enough to carry. Let’s say I hand you the bag, and let’s say you take it.
You say, “Thank you!” (because you learned to use your manners.)
I reply. “You’re welcome.” I decline your hug of joy. (dont’ take it personally, I’m just not a hugger.)
Then I continue. “This bag of cash is yours, no strings or obligation attached. You can spend it all at once, or not at all. You can use it to do great things or bad things, you can give it away or hoard it all to yourself. You can do with this money ANYTHING YOU WANT. Healthy things, horrible things, powerful things, humble things. The money is a tool. You are free to use it to accomplish any goal you decide apply it to. Like a carpenter building a house, the money is your hammer. Use it wisely, use it well, just use it.
“But there is one catch.
[I can hear you thinking, “I KNEW IT.” Yes, you did. You were right. You are so smart!]
“The bag of cash is yours, but at some point in the future I am going to find you and take back what isn’t spent. Whatever you haven’t consumed, whatever you haven’t used, I’m taking it back. It might be tomorrow, it might be next week or next year or ten years from now. I don’t know right now when I’ll decide to do it, but I will find you and take back what you don’t use.”
Setting aside this time the creep factor of “I will find you,” you agree. It’s a BAG OF MONEY, who wouldn’t agree? We shake hands (still not a hugger), I say “I’ll see you again,” and then we part ways. You continue on with your day, way lighter in your shoes despite the heavy (but still magically light enough to carry) canvas bag.
I’m sure you’re thinking about what you’d spend the money on. I personally would pay off every stitch of debt I have, buy out the family business so my dad can actually bring in a paycheck, buy my parent’s house for them, buy land and build a house of my own, spend more time with my kids, work less and play more, go back to school. For me after the first $10 million it would be tougher to find things to buy. I’m a minimalist at heart (if I could fit all my belongings in the trunk of my car I would be in HEAVEN), so I wouldn’t buy THINGS. I’d travel, and go places. I’d see the world, eat strange food, meet stranger people, and see the strangest things. I would be an expert at airport security, body scans, faking a foreign language, and sleeping in hostels. I might even roll around buck naked in some of the cash, just because I could.
I would for sure do all those things, but I’d do them fast. If I knew that the bag of money was “spend it or lose it,” I’d spend the SHIT out of that money. I would do the most important things on my agenda first. It would be a race against time, trying to get into the unknown amount of time I had available all the things I wanted to accomplish with that money.
I’m sure you’d do the same.
Okay. So now instead of money inside the bag, let’s say it’s something else.
Let’s say it’s “days of life on Earth.”
And instead of me handing you that bag, let’s say the person handing you the bag is Death.
Someday you are going to die.
[I can hear you thinking again. “BLINDSIDED. I KNEW IT. I can’t believe you just said that. Too real, too hard, TOO MUCH. How rude. And actually that’s just plain ANNOYING. I don’t even want to read the rest of this dumb blog.”]
I understand, but I need to keep going.
Someday, you are going to die. One day you will run out of time. One day Death will come for you no matter how much you did or didn’t use out of that bag, no matter how many plans you have for what you have left in that bag. What you don’t use he’ll take back. What you don’t SPEND, he’ll take back.
[“JUST STOP. I don’t like to think about it, and I for sure don’t want to talk about it. YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, I KNOW THAT. Stop telling me.”]
If it makes you feel any better, I am also going to die. And so are my parents.
And so are my kids.
On a long enough timeline the survival rate for EVERYONE drops to zero. We are all going to die.
Yes. Yes it does. It’s scary to think about. We don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to think that we have only so much time to use what’s in the bag of life that’s handed to us. We live in a culture where we are raised and molded to believe we are invincible, to live as long as we can without thinking about the endpoint.
It’s scary to think that we will die, but it’s so, so important that we’re mindful of that fact. Only when we understand the seriousness of it can we get to the really good part.
Think about what’s IN the bag.
The part we need to cleave to is what’s IN the bag, and how we spend the time we have until the bag is taken back. We can do with our days anything we want. Healthy things, horrible things, powerful things, humble things. We can use the days to make great things happen, we can give away our days to others or we can keep them all to ourselves. We can use them as we see fit, but someday Death is going to come for us. He’ll take back what we don’t use, no matter what we have planned for what’s still in that bag.
On December 12, 2011, I was in a pretty serious car accident. I won’t be overly dramatic and say “I almost died,” but I almost died. I could have died. The car was found upside down on a guard rail, and on the other side of the guard rail was a pretty significant drop. I think that it would have been curtains for both me and my son if the car had dropped off the edge.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I don’t remember what happened. The accident caused head trauma serious enough that I lost my sense of smell and ten days of my memory. I don’t remember anything about earlier that morning, I don’t remember anything for the week or so after I got home, and when I try to remember anything about the few days before or the month after, my memories are blotchy.
Doing my job was harder after the accident. It took focus and zero distraction to accomplish tasks that were easy before. Things like math and TALKING took a lot more concentration. For a few months after the accident I had barely any voice because I was intubated at the hospital and they nicked my vocal cords. I also had a really hard time putting together coherent sentences. When dealing with health care providers and the insurance company on the phone after the accident, I had to write down first what I wanted to say because I was no longer capable of thinking on my feet.
Eventually I did get better. Slowly I got back to “normal.” Things eventually were wonderfully humdrum and innate.
A few months after the accident I had to empty out the wrecked car. The insurance company botched the whole thing and instead of emptying the car at the tow lot, they sent it to the wrecking yard with a few thousand dollars worth of things in the trunk. My dad and I made arrangements to get my things.
When I arrived at the wrecking yard, this is what I saw.
I stood there for a long time staring at that car, not moving, just LOOKING. Then I broke down in tears. (Kinda freaked my dad out, but I couldn’t help it.) I just kept LOOKING. And I started thinking.
I could have DIED.
I stood there looking at that car and was faced with a real, visual, TANGIBLE token of my mortality.
I could have died. I am going to die. Someday I am going to die.
With a cold, shivery sinking feeling I realized in that moment that Death will come for the bag I hold. Someday he will come. No matter what I’ve gotten done with the time I had, no matter how much I still want to do with what’s left in the bag, he will come to take back what I haven’t used. No matter what I do with the contents of my bag or how I do it, Death will come.
I realized that someday I am going to die, and suddenly things just… …made sense.
For a whole lot of years I spent a great deal of time thinking about death and suicide. I looked forward to not being alive anymore. I don’t mean to negate or minimize any significant mental illness (because not all depressives are like this), but from what I’ve read most thoughts of suicide for textbook depressives aren’t “threatening.” I think depressives tend to think of suicide a bit differently. For me suicide wasn’t a destination, but a way out of the mental prison I felt trapped in. “If I was dead at least I’d be NOT HERE.”
When I was standing there looking at that car, though, something changed. I was surprised to realize that I was GLAD I was still here. I was GLAD I STILL HELD MY BAG FULL OF DAYS. I realized that I was GRATEFUL I still had time to use the days that are left, and that there were things I’d be upset about not getting done before my time was up. I realized that if Death had shown up for my bag of life when I got in that accident, I’d have been PISSED. I wouldn’t have let go willingly.
I also realized that I had done a piss poor job using the days I’d already taken out of the bag.
And I decided THAT had to change.
I do know that someday Death will come for me. Someday I will die. I know that no matter when it happens it will be too soon. I’ve got things to DO with the days in my bag. Big things. I want to travel the world and build a house. I want to see my kids push their way through life, fall in love, find their joy, make their mark. I want to do all the things with the contents of my bag that I would have done if it was a bag full of MONEY, instead of a bag full of DAYS. I want to live like I’ve got only one day left, and I want to leave this world and the people in it better than when I got here.
I wonder how differently you’d prioritize your life if time was tangible. If you could gather days of life and keep them in a bag. I wonder how different you’d prioritize things if I handed you a bag of life, a bag of life full of days, and knew you would eventually have to give the bag back. Would you use them differently than you’re using them right now? Would anything change?
I’d speculate that there would be more love in your life. There is a lot more in mine than there was before. I’d also guess that you’d work less and play more, or at least work differently. I worry less, and dream more, and play a lot. My house is way messier, my laundry goes for days in the basket before it gets put in the drawer. I leave dishes in the sink. I blow off work sometimes to play with the kids. I take them out for ice cream just because (we call it reverse dinner because we eat dessert first), and sometimes we skip dinner altogether and just eat the ice cream.
Knowing Death is coming for us doesn’t change everything. I still work, I still push for goals that really don’t matter in the grander scheme of life. I still get stressed out and cranky and make bad choices and have bad days. What’s changed, though, is that the good days outweigh the bad because I understand the bad days are just not worth the waste. It’s not WORTH it. I prioritize things differently. I use my days differently. I stop and smell more flowers, linger over hugs, tell people I love them more often.
I work out and eat right and take care of myself so that Death might give me a bit more time before he shows up. I live a life of integrity and honesty and kindness and excitement so that WHEN he shows up, I’m proud of what the bag looks like. It will be painted and stickered like an old fashioned suitcase, full of photos and mementos and memories. The days I took out of the bag will be replaced with bits of joy.
I really hope that everyone can understand what a gift they carry. A bag of life, full of days, to be used up and spent and shared.
Every day in your bag of life can be used in a big way, but use them before you run out of time. Use them well, and use them up. Use each one like it’s the last one. And when Death shows up…
hand him a bag that’s completely empty and tell him,
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