Two people I didn’t know died recently.
I learned about them, their lives, and their deaths, from grieving friends.
Their deaths were unexpected. One from a chronic health problem that deteriorated rapidly. The second also “natural,” but without warning. Both had young children. Both left grieving families, friends, and colleagues
Natural causes. A phrase we’ve all heard thousands of times. Two words that don’t convey the pain death leaves in its wake.
I began to think of death a little differently not that long ago. It was something I heard on a show that has become a big part of my life. The Rich Roll Podcast. Rich is an ultra-endurance athlete, a vegan and an inspiration. He challenges himself and his listeners to be their best selves. His guests share their lives with Rich because he’s authentic, curious, and humble. He radiates warmth and trust. He’s become a fixture in my life. Like a friend I’ve never met. Although I did meet him once. Travelled across the country to hear him speak and met him briefly afterward. Bought a t-shirt which I still have. Very worn, and very torn, I still wear it proudly.
A year or so ago, one of Rich’s guests spoke about aging, and longevity – with a focus on people around my age – forty and fifty. Not old, but not young.
The guest said something like ‘Nature doesn’t need you anymore.’
Thought provoking words. Not spiritual, not healing, not sugar-coated. Evolutionary. We are all animals. Dying is wired into our DNA. And by our forties and fifties, most of us have had children, and aren’t going to have any more. Nature – cruel, merciless – doesn’t need us.
A lot of things don’t need us.
Work doesn’t need us. If we are lucky, we have careers in which we are fortunate enough to make contributions – to our co-workers, to our organizations, to the world at large. But, at work, each of us is completely replaceable, regardless of what we do. You and I might be missed. But we’re not necessary. Not essential. We’d be replaced and the machine would grind on.
Things don’t need us. We surround ourselves with so much that is non-essential. So much plastic, so much made overseas, so much packaging. Inert crap, that adds little value to our lives.
The news cycle doesn’t need us. It gorges, spits out, and moves on. Trump today – gone tomorrow.
The planet doesn’t need us – alive, we drain it, suck out its exhaustible resources. Every second we breathe, we’re part of the problem. Dead, we return to the earth. Giving a little bit back after all we’ve taken.
But if a lot of things don’t need us – a lot of people do.
Our communities. Our friends. Our families. Our children.
Not knowing that I’m writing this – never knowing anything that I write about – my five-year old daughter just started talking about death. She said to me “I bet you die right now.” I reassured her and told her that wasn’t going to happen.
I did not tell her that nature doesn’t need her father anymore. She’s five. She still needs her dad. Needs to cover my face in shaving cream like she did a couple of hours ago. Needs to paint my nails pink and spray me with perfume like she did right after that.
And I need her. For as long as I can hang on.
Which is another reason Rich Roll has become a mentor and inspiration. Nature is merciless. Accidents happen. Diseases ravage. Aging never stops, and always takes a toll. But there are things we can do that increase our chances – increase our chances to live longer, be healthier, and find contentment in whatever path or paths we choose along the way.
More things matter less than ever to me now. Things I used to be passionate about like baseball and politics. Not that long ago they were central to my life, now they exist on the periphery.
But if many things matter less, then a few things matter more. My family. My friends. Seeking rewarding work – not working for rewards. Reading. Writing. Running.
And living a life with pink nails, and a shaving cream head.