Live Like You Were Dying

February 2, 2005

The other night I saw Tim McGraw’s CMT video “Live Like You Were Dying.” There’s good ol’ Tim in his jeans, with his perfect teeth telling me to smarten up. He even plucked at the heart strings with some video clips of his dad who just recently died of cancer.

It’s easy to sing about living full out as if there’s no tomorrow. Here’s the problem though, if I’m not really dying (as in a specific ETA I’ve been given), it’s impossible for me to do. I always know in the back of my head that I’m just pretending, so I pull my punches, I fake it. I haven’t looked death in the face and embraced it’s truth, it’s reality, it’s finality. It’s a subjective destination–like being thin or self disciplined or righteous–will I ever really get there?

In our society, death is kept at arm’s length. Sick and disabled people are kept far from us, and dead people are sanitized, starched and made up and then boxed up: out of sight, out of mind. It’s a Brave New World we live in and everybody is healthy and wealthy and wise, certainly not sickly or dying or, perish the thought, dead.

So, Tim, when I’m not really at death’s door, how do I live as though I were dying? I don’t know what it’s like to die. Even though my adolescent and post-adolescent ruminations often glorify it–usually as a mode of vengeance (won’t he be sorry when I’m gone, serves her right, etc.), I’m as alive as I can be physically speaking.

How can I live, to steal the phrase, as if I had no fear? Now fear is something I know. For me, it’s hidden away in the most indecipherable of motivations, but I know it’s there. It drives most of what I do, if I’m honest. Jesus says to fear not, that perfect love casts out fear. The Bible talks a lot about not being afraid. That indicates to me that fear must be a common denominator for all of us. God wouldn’t tell us not to do something if we never did it. He’s not a waster of words.

The crux of it, then, is that I don’t know how not to fear nor do I know how to live like I were dying (although I reckon the song said live like you was dying). What that leads me to is telling God how incapable I am of succeeding at this task. But if he would kindly push the eject button, I wouldn’t object to being shot from my helplessness into the wide open spaces of life in the face of death and freedom from fear.

The Serenity Prayer I used to think was so trite is now one of my favorites: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Perhaps it’s what I’ve been seeking all along–the impetus to shoot me into living life for real–knowing what I can change, accepting what I can’t, being able to tell one from the other. Serene, courageous and wise. Sounds like living to me.

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