Last week, I wrote about my views on life and death. Within 3 days, the post (015C: 生死的感悟 About Life and Death) generated more than 110 views. Little did I expect that an article on such a sombre topic would generate this much interest. Let’s alone, it was written in Chinese.
Friends found meaning in thinking about the important things to do in life before death.
A friend M immediately texted me after reading,”I was touched by the four things to do: To express gratitude (道谢), love (道爱), repentance (道歉) and longing (道别) to the people who matter in your life.”
- Four Things To Do Before Death
A friend Z said she could feel my fear for death. Whereas, another friend L said that death never bother her because each day of living is a gift in itself. Alas, not all my friends are sober thinkers. My friend X was hilarious. She said, “Before I die, all I ask is to be able to do four things well each day! Eat, Sleep, Shit and Spit” I chuckled at her words.
But as I pondered over these words a little more, I realised that the four things she said are relevant to keeping healthy on a daily basis. I couldn’t quite figure out why she considered “spit” as important, until another friend J explained on her behalf that many old people find it difficult to expel the phlegm, which results in pneumonia, a common cause of death at old age.
I want to thank you all for the collective wisdom generated. Since I have pretty much covered the gist of last week’s article, I will not translate it. Rather, I would like to borrow the key points in the previous article and delve a little more on the same topic. Consider it a remake version, dubbed in English this time though.
In the previous article, I recounted that I cried under the covers for fear of death when I was a young boy. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to cease in existence one day. The idea of certain death was very unsettling to the young mind.
- Life Gives Meaning To Death
My eleven-years-old son Conan revealed that he had similar fears about death. He said,
“When I imagine that I die and no longer exist, I see myself shrouded in utter darkness. But if I no longer exist, how could I possibly tell it is dark?”
I smiled and nodded in agreement,
“Son, what you’ve just said is similar to what Descartes, a famous philosopher had said, ‘I think, therefore I exist.’ So if you can still tell that it is dark, you are probably not dead.”
The truth is, death is hard to comprehend. Death, by itself, is devoid of meaning. Only life can give meaning to death. Confucius, the titan of oriental philosophy, once said, “How can you comprehend death if you do not know the meaning of life?” （“未知生，焉知死“）
Growing up, I became increasingly convinced by the dogma that the meaning of life lies in self-actualisation. That means to find out what you are good at, do your best and see how far you can go. Put it in a cliché way of saying, “Go for your dreams!”
- Life: More Than Self-Actualisation
Self-actualisation is highly satisfying and rewarding, except that it is flawed for its sole focus on self. I was constantly working on self-improvement and pushed myself hard, and perhaps others too. A long-time friend and associate at work T told me recently, “You have changed much. Do you remember that I joined you for an overseas conference more than 10 years ago? You couldn’t let up even for a moment. At the end of the conference, you had all of us stayed up late in the evening for discussion.”
Unwittingly, I had allowed my life to become an one-dimensional narrative of personal endeavours, defined by narrow notions of success and failure. Fortunately, marriage and parenthood taught me to see life beyond self-actualisation. Contrary to general belief, I believe that people are more willing to do more for their significant others than themselves. Life becomes larger and more meaningful when you know who matters.
Death re-entered my thoughts after two recent health scares.
- Life is a gift: Never Neglect Heath!
The first time was in February last year when some abnormally long but benign tumours were detected in my thyroid and had to be surgically removed. The second time was in April this time when I was hurried to the hospital because of an abrupt drop of blood pressure that caused me to lose consciousness momentarily.
Both times, my condition were far from life-threatening, but they were enough to hit home the fragility of life. It was, however, at the first hospital stay that I experienced a pivotal moment which completely altered the way I see my priorities in life. I witnessed firsthand the devastation of a person’s life because of health problems.
A young man in his late twenties, he was a Uber driver who suddenly found himself unable to drive one day. For many days, he was plagued with suffering that arose from persistent headaches, blurred vision and swelling of legs. While recuperating on my sickbed after surgery, I overheard the doctor telling him that his kidneys had completely failed and daily dialysis was his only option.
Each day, behind the curtains, I listened to the conversations doctors, nurses and social workers had with him. And each day, his young wife would arrive after working hours to keep him company. She would stay till almost midnight, sometimes cuddling up to his bedside for solace and leaving only to catch the last train service. I was stumped for words when he told me they have a new-born baby and were about to get the keys to their new home.
Life is a gift in itself. Never never neglect your health, no matter how young and strong you are. Do it for yourself and your loved ones.
On the topic of health, a friend G told me recently, “We are already in our forties. How many active years of healthy life do you think you have left? For me, at best 10-15 years.”
- How many more years of good health left?
I pose the same question to you, “How many more good years of healthy life do you think you can have?”
Most of you who read my blogs are above the age of 30. Surely, you know by now that 20,30 years is not that long a time. And surely, you also realise by now that time flies faster as you age.
I did my Maths. If I give myself 20 more years of good health, it translates to 7,300 days. Does that sounds like a lot to you? Not at all, to me. Of course, I have every intention to live up to 100 years of ripe old age healthily (laughs).
You should also do your own Maths. Only you know better if you have squandered the precious time in your life.
Which is why, my loved ones and friends, I have been using this blog to invite you to join me in this journey of discovering health, joy and love in life. To begin with, cherish and live each day well.
William W K Tan
First published on 28 0ct.2017
Rewritten on 29 Oct. 2017
A friend alerted me that my latest blog had gone missing this morning! I must have binned it accidentally when I tried to correct some of the grammatical errors my son pointed out. Because I did not keep any back up copies, I had to rely on my memory to rewrite.
The bad part is I have to sacrifice my morning run, which I will make up later in the afternoon. The good part is the revised article turns out well and I marvel at my memory. I won’t be getting dementia anytime soon, I guess.