Writing our own EPITAPH
Has the dawn ever forgotten to bring us light each morning? Has the night ever failed to muffle the clanging of the city and the pots in our homes? Despite all resistance, winter departs, the snow melts and spring hastens to make way for the fullness of summer, dressed in colourful flowers with aromas of fine herb and delicious grilled fare.
Our lives have been turned upside down, and yet, like the sap in tree branches, blood runs through life’s veins. It’s an immutable truth, despite the alarming number of lives that have been taken too early.
I have scoured the news in vain during quarantine to try and understand the workings of this nasty virus. And I’ll that I’ve taken away is the number of deaths that have occurred around the world. And I say to myself that perhaps we are, like the leaves on a tree, generations of people who appear one after another, bloom, contribute and then fall, while the trunk of tree remains alive (reference to Homer’s Iliad, 9th century BC). Just like the buds that become fruit that contain within them the precious seeds of future generations.
Alone in my head, I wonder who’s right. According to the Ancient Greet poet, life is a tree that is constantly reborn. And, in the vastness of time, every human existence is part of a seasonal harvest.
We are born as tiny buds from a mother’s womb, we learn to walk, talk, study, work, love and reproduce. By then, we reach maturity. And very gently, the body mellows and tempers our passions, the light fades and age hurries to crown our heads in white.
Like autumn leaves at the last waltz, we tremble and lurch as we dance. Still drunk with life, we hang onto ice-encased branches, to bright memories and to all those we have loved. And when the world falls silent, our hearts capsize into the unknown. Inanimate, our weakened flesh intertwines with the wind’s robes and twirls, to finally plunge into the Earth’s dark belly.
The cycle of life begins all over again. Without knowing it, we nourish the trees’ roots as their skeletal arms above endure the assault from the wind, the cold, the rain and the snow.
Yet the roots maintain in contact with the arboreal frame. They ensure that the life blood runs in its veins, from the trunk hidden in the ground to the finest grooves in the branches at its top. And perhaps this is how life continues from one year to the next, generation after generation. Over the centuries, the Universe discharges its heavy load of buds onto the planet. As if the Great Creator, instead of declaring “Let us make man,” scattered a handful of seeds over the earth.
I may embrace this idea of eternal renewal, but I will let each of you come to your own theory. With this in mind, I will share with you what a friend, in his autumnal years like me, told me the other day.
“After all these months spent reflecting on your life, my dear Cora, you should conclude by composing your epitaph. It’s a wonderful life recipe to set the next stage. A recipe that is unique, purposeful and perhaps will even in some strange way allow you to live more in harmony with your present beliefs and to let go of your past experiences that were often negative and unhappy.
Take the time to remember the best moments of your life, the not so good and the worst.
Then, return to present, to the person you truly are, to what you really hold dear and to what you want your children to remember of you.”
Here is this recipe in my own words.
The exercise is to write your own EPITAPH.
In your own words or using a quote that is meaningful to you, a proverb that describes you – anything that accurately sums up who you are in a few words.
This exercise is a moment to turn inwards and seek a new North Star to guide you for the remainder of your life. This brief epitaph expresses who you are today, and especially the final imprint you want to leave in the memories of others.
The ultimate benefit is that you can live by this epitaph while you are still alive. Ask yourself in what ways you can embody this succinct self-description even more.
To help you, here is my epitaph, composed a few days after receiving this great advice from my friend.
“I leave this world happy.
Worn to the bone.”
From here on, I will be guided by these personal maxims:
1) Cultivate happiness.
2) Exhaust all my talents.
3) Live as long as possible.
Psst: Give it a try. During confinement, you’ve had time to think. And it does a world of good to do a little housecleaning in your head.