This theme came up constantly- in myself and in others -as I studied what we can learn about death in order to thrive in life for my book. I kept coming across how quickly what we have access to can become an expectation instead of a blessing.
We can all probably relate to this simple example: someone is taken care of by others their whole life, their partner does their laundry and their dishes for them, and they get used to it, they don’t become better as the result of someone else “helping” them, they’re more often at a loss when it’s not done instead of being grateful for all the times that it is. It is the entire idea behind a person being owed alimony -that once they’ve gotten used to a certain lifestyle they would suffer too much to be without it. What we’re granted, after a short period of time, quite often becomes what is expected, we then need more to maintain our contentment.
There’s something about the way life works in which what soothes us in the short-term screws us in the long run. We see it clearly in examples of spoiled children and codependency and obesity and other forms of addiction, as well as witnessing the extreme of young people in the limelight having everything they want most often ending up in treatment centers; as much as it’s tempting to chase what soothes us, we know how much it doesn’t work.
And there’s a very dangerous way in which this relates to truly living life and including death in that…
When we maintain the cozy thoughts that we, our loved ones, our children, will have long and healthy lives, anything but that can become a robbery, as opposed to every moment we did have being a blessing. When we shield ourselves from the inevitability of death, life by default becomes something that is taken for granted.
This plays out in life in believing we have forever to start living, it plays out in dying when keeping people in their 90’s alive in hospitals for years on ventilators and other forms of life support, it plays out in death with having strange and expensive ways of caring for the dead to avoid taking part in it, and it even reveals itself in the grief that can become so complicated as a result of these false beliefs later on.
Every minute of life is not owed to us; it is something that will be taken from us in an instant. There is no hiding from the truth of death and change; it just simply comes at a greater shock and loss when it actually happens from living in this illusion.
We know the contrast of what we have from understanding deeply our transience, from being witnessing and being with others’ in theirs, by not taking a blind eye to those who are going through hard things.
The gifts of doing things worth living for do not come from positive, cozy experiences that we would have chosen for ourselves. Anything that is worth it in life is on the other side of the comfort zone: learning, growing, moving, exercising, changing, birthing…
What we do have a chance to do everyday is remember that our lives are limited, to not pretend otherwise, in order to inform the way we live and interact and hold in gratitude all that we are given.