The greatest time teacher … death

How close have you been to death? Experiences that heighted our death awareness can sharpen our mind to the way we think about time.

Time gone

We all believe in the certainty of our deaths. However, it often takes an event to wake us up to reflect on this truth. Perhaps you have been in a serious accident; survived a life threatening illness; had a lucky escape, or even attended a funeral. What did it teach you about time?

My 'close calls' include – a serious car accident, a few collisions with cars on my bike, and one pedestrian accident. My wife thinks it might be hereditary as our three year old daughter has already been hit by a car and put her head through a glass door. No doubt you have your own stories. Given all the stupid things we do I am surprised anyone reaches adulthood.

Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple, and recently named CEO of the decade by Fortune magazine) once said – “Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Some important lessons from death awareness include:

1. The value of time

Death teaches us that we are not in control of how much time we will get. Our time is limited and extremely valuable. Time is more valuable than money or possessions. This reality should impact on our everyday living.

2. Appreciation of time

Not everyone gets to be our age. We should be thankful for each day we get, and the people we get to spend it with. It is common for survivors to have a greater appreciation of their time. They no longer take their time for granted.

3. Better use of your time

After a ‘death awareness’ experience, people usually have a strong desire to better use their time. They don’t want to waste their time. (The find Time section of this website seeks to help people make better use of their time). They also want to re-think their priorities to do what matters with their time. Am I really doing what I want with my time? A study of women who survived breast cancer made some interesting general observations – Work became less of a priority for the survivors; while leisure and time with the family became more important.; family or social leisure was seen as more important than individual leisure; Having ‘things’ became less important, whereas having time to ‘experience’ things became more important.

4. Enjoy the now more

Future-oriented people (like myself) often we caught so caught up on future plans and goals that we don’t enjoy the now. Death awareness reminds us that we may not have a tomorrow, so don’t place all your bets on the future.

5. Invest time into your health

Death awareness reminds us that our bodies are deteriorating. After a heart operation, my father would say – in the second half of life you pay for the first half. So if you want a good second half, look after your health in the first half.

6. Exit strategy …. Leave on good terms

Thinking about the reality of our death may lead to a desire to leave no unfinished business. Apparently Jim Elliot (martyr missionary in Ecuador) once said “When it comes time to die, make sure all you got to do is die”. Is there anyone you need to apologize to? Forgive? Repay a debt? Show appreciation? Is your conscious clear?

7. Use your time to build a legacy

During our limited years we can build a legacy that lives on after we are gone. Death awareness may prompt us to use our time to work more on things that last after we are gone. What are you leaving behind? What example are you to your children? Friends? etc

8. Invest time forming a view on the afterlife

Death awareness leads to thinking about what happens after death. Studies by Zimbardo and Boyd show that our beliefs about a ‘transcendental future’ (ie- life after death) impact on our current behavior. If our beliefs are wrong then perhaps much of our life will be wasted, but such a topic is beyond the scope of this article.

Summary

Ignoring the reality of death may lead to a lack of appreciation of time, and consequently poorer use of time. Death is perhaps our greatest teacher about time. William Ross Wallace (Braveheart) reportedly said - “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” I hope the reality of death help clarify what is important to us and reminds us to crave and make better use of our time.

Related CraveTime Articles

References

Shannon C.S & Shaw S.M, "‘If the Dishes Don’t Get Done Today, They’ll Get Done Tomorrow’: A Breast Cancer Experience as a Catalyst for Changes to Women Leisure", Journal of Leisure Research, 2005, Vol 37, No 2, pp 195-215.

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