One of our recent daily assignments in the Master Key Experience has been to read one or more local obituaries, especially those with photographs of the deceased. We’re in the 2nd week of doing this. So many are younger than I am. So many were hampered by a difficult and/or painful illness when I am so healthy. So many left so many grieving loved ones. Some were suicides; some were murders; some deaths were the result of horrendous accidents. I was especially surprised that there are SO MANY obituaries every day even in my community of only 300,00. I am so blessed not to be there. In the past I would have been like the comedian George Burns who is said to have said, “I get up every morning and read the obituary column. If my name’s not there, I eat breakfast.” Sure that’s funny. But I’m no longer taking it lightly and just going on with my day. Here’s why reading obituaries has been a life-changer for me.
The obituary reading assignment goes along with “The Scroll Marked V” by Og Mandino in The Greatest Salesman in the World: You Can Change Your Life With The Priceless Wisdom Of The Ten Ancient Scrolls Handed Down For Thousands of Years. This is the next Scroll in the series and we’ll be reading it 3 times a day, once out loud, for the entire month of February.
The scroll begins, “I will live this day as if it is my last.” The scroll ends this way:
And if it is my last, it will be my greatest monument. This day I will make the best day of my life. This day I will drink every minute to its full. I will savor its taste and give thanks. I will maketh every hour count and each minute I will trade only for something of value. I will labor harder than ever before and push my muscles until they cry for relief, and then I will continue. I will make more calls than ever before, I will sell more goods than ever before. I will earn more gold than ever before. Each minute of today will be more fruitful than hours of yesterday. My last must be my best.
I will live this day as if it is my last. And if it is not, I shall fall to my knees and give thanks.”Og Mandina, pp 73-77 The Greatest Saleman in the World
We’ve heard the term memento mori, which is “an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.” In my Roman Catholic tradition there were monks who had had an actual skull in the cell where they slept. A parish priest I knew in rural Kansas used as the coffee table in his living room a wooden coffin he had had crafted to fit his tall dimensions. Why would they do that? Isn’t all that morbid?
All this is far from being morbid! Instead, all of this shines a bright light on the excruciatingly preciousness of every minute of the time we have to use before our deaths. None of us is promised tomorrow. All of us are sent here with a purpose to accomplish. The needs of our times are enormous as are the needs of so many people we share these times with! Time is ticking. Why wouldn’t we want some way to remember and be fully aware of that every day?
I’m sure that’s why we are being encouraged to ask ourselves three things after reading an obituary–and to make this a practice and a personal memento mori.
“What would that person have done to change places with me and have 1 more day?”
“Who can I let know how grateful I am for their presence today if it is my last?”
“How will I live today to finish the masterpiece of my life elegantly?”
Most of us don’t live this way, right? We have big dreams and then the money doesn’t seem to flow and we acquire responsibilities and debts and expectations from other people in our lives. We work hard, get tired, and stop taking care of the physical side of us that needs more sleep and activity and better food than the junk we eat. The years go by. We make excuses. We fall asleep watching TV or Netflix or Amazon Prime. We play computer games to keep ourselves distracted. We don’t stimulate our brains. We don’t let art from our contemporaries challenge us. We do our jobs well enough to get by. We find pleasure, laughter, fun and fulfillment where we can. We settle for getting by with a gray life, even though it is a seemingly great life. We don’t remember most days that time is ticking.
I was getting the memento mori message loud and clear in the live session for the week when our instructors kicked it up even another notch with a fabulous new question to write on at least 10 index cards to keep top of mind every day as we go through the segments of our days this week: “What would the person I intend to become do next?”
Isn’t that an excellent guide to living today to its fullest? She doesn’t waste a minute. She thinks only positive thoughts. She uses her body and mind really well, keeping them healthy and active and youthful. She rests when it’s time to rest and makes plenty of time for re-energizing fun and laughter. Daily she finds more and more ways to make life better for those her life touches. She’s focused on her Definite Major Purpose and works toward it daily using her mind skills to create authentic magic. She’s guided by the virtues of kindness, discipline, organization, courage, self-control, decisiveness, persistence, enthusiasm, imagination. She shapes a pleasing personality, takes initiative, and sees God in others–having incorporated into her personality the “Franklin Makeover” virtues she assimilated in the Master Key Experience.
Like her, I will no longer take tomorrow for granted. “I will live this day as if it is my last.”