And Wise Too Late"
Ben Franklin said over two centuries ago, "Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late." While this seems at first glance to be a strange paradox related to life, it is something about which we need to address.
It is an eternal truth. We need to think about this truth and do what we can to avoid overlooking Franklin's wisdom; he is gone but not his words. A part of the problem is that it is difficult to explain something to a person when that person is not capable of understanding a particular truth.
Case in point. It has been nearly a decade ago that I danced with death. Actually, I did so twice within a matter of three or four months. In both cases, I have recovered from both my dances. While I would not like to replicate either dance again in the future, I would not delete either of them from my life. I learned a great truth from both those encounters that I could not have fully understood prior to those dances. However, I am fully aware of it now.
While I have talked and written about both those dances with death, unless the person to whom I was addressing my comment has had similar experiences, that person would not grasp that truth at the same level as I have. Prior to my near death experiences, I would not have understood either. When I talk to people about my dances, I can tell whether they will truly understand what I am saying in a matter of a moment. I can see it in their eyes. It is as if they are saying, "I totally agree. I know what you mean."
There have been a number of well-known people who have danced with death and understood much of the same thing that I understand. Steve Jobs, Randy Pausch, and Oliver Sacks all have danced with death.
Steve Jobs said "...death is very likely the single best invention of life." He did not understand that truth prior to dancing with pancreatic cancer. In October 2003, Jobs was diagnosed with that cancer and was able to dance with death until October 2011. During those eight years, Jobs worked for much of that time at Apple. However, he also talked about the truth that dancing with death caused him to come truly alive.
Interestingly, Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, died two months after I fell off a ladder, which was one of my dances. I cracked my head on a concrete wall causing a subdural hematoma, which is often called traumatic brain injury.
Pausch's Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon is an hour and a quarter presentation of another person who is dying of effects of pancreatic cancer, which has metastasized to his liver. Watch his Last Lecture. He was more alive than anyone in the audience was. Death forced him to realize something that others cannot fully understand...unless they too danced with death.
Oliver Sacks is a neurology professor at the New York University School of Medicine. His dealing with ocular melanoma that has metastasized to his liver is his dance with death. Sacks wrote,
Sacks understands how each one of us is unique. The manner in which he is addressing his dance is the same as Jobs and Pausch's. Live life to the fullest. Do what you love to do. Tempus fugit.
Franklin's observation, "Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late" is generally true. Often our wisdom comes from the older generation since they dance with death more regularly than the younger generation. However, Jobs and Pausch were not of the older generation.
Therefore, regardless of our age, we need at least to be conscious of the reality that we are not immortal as we often think we are when we are young. Wrestle with your finiteness. If you do, you will experience some of the transformation that will occur when you do dance with death. Here are some suggestions:
If you do these things now, when you truly dance with death, you will be prepared. Then you will understand the blessing that dancing with death provides you.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.