The Perfect Amount of Death

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Comic by Tyson Cole.
Comic by Tyson Cole.

Austin Kleon starts every day by reading obituaries.

Not to be morbid.

Not to obsess about death.

Not to channel sadness.

But to celebrate life. To focus on the present. To live every moment.

Kleon is the author of Show Your Work!, which I loved, and Steal Like an Artist which will be the next book I read when it arrives today or tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking about the need to be aware of our mortality for a long time. I’ve written on the topic several times.

But Kleon really got me thinking about this.

We don’t have to be excessively morbid or sad or whatever about death. I’m not trying to be edgy or dark. I’m just stating a fact disguised as an opinion: We’re all going to die. We’re dead. A death sentence. All of us. Everyone we know and love and everyone we don’t know.

It doesn’t have to be so big and scary. And even if it is, we should use it as a tool right now.

It can be the perfect reminder to live.

The perfect amount of death.

The Infertility Plague

What if there were no more kids? No more babies? Like in P.D. James’ The Children of Men.

Seth Godin asks better questions than any journalist I’ve ever seen. That guy would have been an amazing reporter or television guy if he wanted to be. And he asked that one the other day.

Godin fires wisdom and thought-provoking commentary to my inbox multiple times per day. I feel guilty quoting the same guys over and over again, but hell. He’s the best for a reason.

He wrote his No more kids? post a couple days ago, and I think it applies to this “perfect amount of death” idea quite nicely.

“What if, in some sort of sci-fi solar flare cataclysm, it was impossible for humans to have more kids? No more babies.

How would we treat the last generation? Would we say to the youngest student on Earth, “sorry the school is really run-down and crowded and poorly staffed, but we don’t want to invest in you?” Would we let the last generation grow up in poverty, or would we do everything we could to ensure that this one last time, we did it right?

To make the example a bit more banal, what if your organization discovered that it would never have another new customer? That the customers you’ve got now are the last ones you will ever have… Would you treat them differently? 

Sometimes, when it seems like there’s an endless parade of prospects walking by, it’s easy to discount this particular person.

No new prospects, no more new web visitors, no more untouched email lists… And far more dramatically, no more new students, no more chances to open doors, inspire genius or create connection.

I wonder what happens when we treat children and customers like maybe, just maybe, they’re the last chance we get to do it right.” – Seth Godin

We Can’t Forget to Live

We all have the right to spend our time any way we choose.

My way is not necessarily more right or wrong than anyone else’s. In fact, it’s a certainty my way is more wrong in many instances.

All you have to do is look around you. At all of the wasted life and opportunity.

I’m not denigrating other people’s choices. But most people aren’t happy about them. It seems to me that most people regret the way their lives turned out, at least in some respects.

But what if we were permanently mindful of the fragility of it all?

What if there were no more kids?

What if there were no new friends?

What if we all had our Countdown to Death™ watches ticking away on our wrists?

You still choosing the huge wedding over world travel?

You still choosing the mortgage over financial freedom?

You still choosing the cubicle over things that fill your soul with joy and inspiration?

The perfect amount of death will remind us to do that, I think.

To not be afraid. And to not be sad.

Just an effective daily reminder.

To kiss the girl.

To laugh more.

To dance when it sounds good.

To take the leap.

To speak up.

To run faster than the dream so you can make it your life.

35 thoughts on “The Perfect Amount of Death”

  1. I follow Seth Godin, on your recommendation. When I read his post about “What if no more kids” I wondered if it would trigger something for you. It did. But you know that, so I will say, have a good weekend!

    1. I love that you read Seth because you learned about him here. That makes me smile. Thank you, Maggie!

  2. “We all have the right to spend our time any way we choose”

    So what about the choices that affect us that we have no control over? This is where I’m stuck and grieving. After being rejected for so much and so long, you tend to believe the bad stuff and forget the person you were before a long time ago. I was braver then and saw the world for all its possibilities.

    Just thinking out loud, still trying to find those answers and trying to be brave again.
    Thanks as always.

    1. You’re welcome as always.

      I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just writing it down. Asking questions. Trying to grow. Trying to learn. Trying to figure out exactly who I want to be.

      Sometimes a bunch of healing has to happen first.

      That part involves little more than staying alive and staying connected.

      Some day, we’ll be better. Stronger.

      That’s when we leave the crap to chase the dream.

      I hope, anyway.

  3. I’ve had occasion to consider this, especially since my own appointed time is closer than it ever has been before. (No, I actually have no idea when– it’s just closer now than it was twenty or thirty or forty years ago.) We are all going to die, of course. The questions are when and of what and under what circumstances. Dying during a drug-deal gone bad— not a good way to die. Dying while trying to save the life of another– much better way to die.

    The worst way to die though, is to live your life in such a way that when you die, nobody really thinks you truly lived. Maybe too many of us live or have lived such lives, and maybe today is a good day to start really living— while we still have the chance.

  4. I remember a great Sunday School teacher of mine once gave a similar illustration of a thimble full of water (actually, he gave out plastic communion cups for everyone to take home as a reminder). Your thimble starts out completely full of water… the water representing anything you hold (or know you should hold) as valuable. How would you treat it if you knew more water could never be added to it… once it was gone, it was gone. That really stuck with me. Of course, it probably stuck because I heard it when I was in the middle of gathering as much wisdom as I could to help right my life after so many years of bad choices. A couple years earlier and I wouldn’t have even been paying attention.

    And my divorce (yes, as you’ve put it, was very much like a death) changed my perspective on how I was living. Not just in the obvious ways of how I treat my relationships, but in how true I was to living my life the way I wanted to live it. I feel like I gave away a large part of my life just because I had no interest in determining how it was lived.

    1. You get it, sir. At least what I’m saying, and that always makes me happy when people understand.

      Thank you. Thank you very much.

      Please have a good weekend down there. Hope it finally looks like spring.

  5. Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.
    James Dean

    I for one..would do a lot more kissing 😉

  6. Reblogged this on mjmsprt40, sez me. and commented:
    I don’t usually re-blog other folk’s work, but this young fellow (Matt, to me you’re a young fellow) has posted a worthwhile effort here and it’s not a bad idea to give it a bit more exposure. Think about it. The clock is ticking, and nobody is guaranteed another sunrise. Make it count for something while you have the chance.

  7. Excellent post, I am going to have to check out Seth Godin because reading what he said about how would we treat the last generation of children gave me chills.

    1. He’s a very marketing and business-focused guy, but he asks the right questions about humanity and what motivates us. Do really, it applies to everything.

      Thank you for your compliment. 🙂

  8. There is a line in the first Tim Burton Batman movie that I like. The Joker has just come back to confront and murder Boss Grissom. Grissom says, “Your life won’t be worth spit.” Joker says, “I’ve been dead. It’s very liberating.” I know the feeling. I’ve been dead and come back. To say that it has changed how I view life would be a gross understatement.

    I intend to write about my experience at length, but a few things I can tell you. Death is not the end just as birth was not the beginning. Life isn’t random. You are here for a reason. In the deepest recesses of your soul, you know what that reason is because you chose it.

    Stay tuned. More to come.

    1. Thank you for this. I’m blessed to believe this minus the messiness of having near-death or crossover experiences.

      I’ll look forward to learning more of your story. Thank you very much for sharing. And I do like that Joker line, too.

  9. Hi Matt. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog, and I nominated you for the Liebster Award. Congratulations! 😉

    1. Thank you, Mr. Lewis! You’re very kind. I appreciate very much that you like the stuff you read here. Please have a great Monday.

      1. Dear Matt,

        I just noticed my type (know – now), I’m sorry for that. Yes, I should definitely do my best to feel happy. Most of the time I’m neutral. Good blog. Keep on writing.

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  11. Am reading this February 2016, having spent a couple hours this weekend talking with my ex (together 35 years) about his epiphany about taking care of himself. Your post hit me with the connection.

    Since August of 2010 he’s been counting down to his death when, at 56, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As he’d avoided doctors his first prostate (PSA) test score was 1,028 (a score of ten is high) and the MRI they gave him (showing cancer lesions in his bones) lit up like a Christmas tree.

    Though he fought it, he expected to die from cancer. Therefore he didn’t bother going to the eye doctor or the dentist. In vehicle terms, why spend energy on minor maintenance on paint when his engine was going to explode?

    Almost six years later he decided dying of cancer is not all his life is about. Note he’s not missed more than a week or two of work due to sickness since diagnosis, though his entire existence centered around “I Have Cancer”.

    At 61 he is still counting down yet has now chosen to live while he is dying. He is, as in your cartoon, making the experience of death more enjoyable.

    As for me I expect to live a long, healthy, vibrant life of joy. I will find joy where I can, and share it as much as I can. That attitude, I believe, goes a long way toward making it happen. I will be 60 this year and neither look or act my age, and I plan to become more joyfully outrageous as my life continues.

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Matt Fray

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