None of what I’m writing here is new. I was thinking about what I would do with the rest of my life if I was given a finite time to live: a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Then I had the blinding flash of the obvious: we all have a terminal illness – called life. We are all dying from the day we are born. Inexorably, unavoidably, the clock is winding down. Why then do we have this way of carrying on our lives as if there is always tomorrow? I’m fully aware that this doesn’t apply to everyone: some people manage to live in the moment and some spend their lives preparing for the end. Many people don’t have the luxury of planning their lives: they are too poor or insecure to do more than survive day-to-day.
Many of us have already had, and all will eventually have, experience of unanticipated events that change our lives. Some are good things but some are accidents, loved ones die, people get ill without warning. Events like that have the effect of pulling us up short, making us re-evaluate our lives and priorities, but for the most part we carry on more or less as before. Why is that?
I suppose, for one thing, a root and branch re-evaluation implies we have got something wrong, and nobody likes to admit that. For another thing, even for the retired, our lives are made to progress through routines, and routine sets its own priorities. There is comfort in the predictable.
When I began writing this piece the question it posed was theoretical, and the dilemma academic. However a real-life diagnosis of terminal cancer, in a loved one, has given it added relevance and poignancy. Living each day to the maximum, and in ‘the moment, after a lifetime of living for the future and planning ahead, is very, very hard. It is particularly difficult when the medics are telling us to live day-by-day while, at the same time, offering some slight hope that there may be a future.