Reminder that life is finite

Rudyard Harrison

Like the butterfly of happiness, the little angel of mortality cannot be caught.

She alights voluntarily on your shoulder when you least expect her. You do not have to be ill or nearing the end of your life.

You do not need to be living in fear of the dreaded virus.

The little angel will make her appearance when appropriate.

Viktor Frankl said, “The fact that we are mortal, that our lives are finite, that our time is restricted and our possibilities are limited… makes it meaningful to do something, to exploit a possibility and make it become a reality… to use our time and occupy it.”

The little angel’s task is to remind us of this fact.

It is tempting, especially when we are young adults, to think that we have limitless time ahead of us and so there is no need to think about filling life with meaning.

Imagine for a moment that we were immortal. The procrastinators would rule the world! Nothing of value would be accomplished and we would see no reason to do something important right now.

The gift of mortality should be greatly valued. The Universe has graciously granted you a limited period in which to make a mark.

No matter how short or how long your life is, no matter whether anyone remembers you when you’re gone, the imprint of your life is of infinite worth and will never be wiped out.

“Life, like a book, is not measured by the number of its pages,” said Frankl.

I have recently observed a life that is not being lived to the full. It is not a pretty sight. This precious life has been impaired by continual prevarication, procrastination, dependence on the agency of others, fear, negativity and apathy.

It is so sad to see a soul bogged down in the mire of learned helplessness.

I used to be a fearful person. I belonged to the club called “the worried well”.

Every malady was viewed as potentially sinister. Every wrong turning as possibly disastrous. Every loss was inconsolable.

Eventually I came to realise that my quality of life was well below par. A life driven by fear and anxiety is not worth living. I had to develop healthier responses to life events.

I discovered that the key lay in the acceptance of reality. The more I focused on reality, the less fear and anxiety I experienced.

I have not arrived. It is a work in progress. The popular Serenity Prayer has become increasingly meaningful, especially during the past few months.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Accepting our mortality may not seem like a “silver lining”.

Most of us cling to life with great tenacity. The important thing to remember is that life in itself is not significant or meaningful.

What we make of life is infinitely valuable. Those actions stand and can never be deleted.

Last week I listened to the children of a recently deceased friend speak proudly of their father’s genuine love and acts of self-sacrifice when they were growing up.

Don’t try to chase away the little angel on your shoulder. Welcome her and be grateful for her gentle reminder that life is finite. You have one opportunity to get it right. Shalom!

Rudyard Harrison is a retired Methodist minister in Somerset West, and is a counsellor at the Ruach Centre at the Methodist Church.