I heard an expression the other day that stopped me in my tracks. It had the ring of a famous saying, although that turned out not to be the case. But more importantly, it had some real profundity. It said, simply, “Life ends in the middle of a sentence.”
Life ending in the middle of a sentence basically means that the end of life is not tidy. And, I suspect, that is absolutely right.
The issue is essentially about getting – or not getting – your life “in order.” How many times have people spoken to you about this? It is one of those phrases that people start to use once they are over a certain age.
And those of us who have reached that certain age also begin to think about it. When the end comes, as it must someday, we want to be ready.
This sense of readiness can be about your mental state – making peace with yourself and others – or it can be about your things and your activities. It is the latter I want to address here.
Some people may have already met this readiness goal. They will have carefully downsized both where they live and what they own.
In the process, they will have sorted all those old papers, with many thrown away and the important ones carefully organised. Their books will have been sorted and cut down to a minimum.
More significantly, they will have handed down all the precious memory-filled items that they wanted to ensure landed in the hands of a particular daughter or son. Or, perhaps, grandchild or, indeed, friend. They will have read through their last will and made sure it is in a safe place.
In sum, all that stuff that seems to accumulate over the years will have been substantially reduced. Everything will be in its place.
The process of ‘cleaning up’ after their demise will be easy. They will have left no mess behind. Congratulations are due.
But is it really that easy? Can most of us be quite so fully organised? We may have tidy plans and a wish to do the right thing, but I question whether we can ever have such orderly lives. And, most importantly, would we wish to do so?
The image of everything being in its rightful place suggests that we have had our lunch, tidied up, put the plates away and are sitting quietly in an armchair waiting for the Grim Reaper to knock on the door.
In truth, life is not like that. We all have projects of one kind or another. For me, it is writing; for others it may be painting or knitting a special outfit for a grandchild or planning the next holiday.
Human beings don’t often put their feet up and wait. They get restless, they mooch around, and they get themselves stuck into something that interests them.
Even if they don’t have exact plans, they may well have dreams. This came home to me very vividly when I was looking after a man who was dying of AIDS roughly 30 years ago. We were writing a book together about living with AIDS and had become good friends.
He had done comparatively well, living longer than anyone expected, but his body was beginning to let him down. As someone active in the AIDS community, he was well aware of his situation. I helped him out where I could.
Among the errands, he asked of me was to post a letter, together with a coupon, to a company offering a free trip to the Caribbean to a lucky winner in several months’ time. I remember walking to the nearest post box wondering why I was doing this obviously pointless task.
But I knew that such dreams were part of what was keeping him alive. In fact, he died two weeks later.
Although I would dearly love to know that my life was “in order,” I have not yet tackled this process. I keep thinking about downsizing, but like St. Augustine and chastity, I say, “Oh Lord, not yet.”
I have thrown away a lot of papers, given away many books, and made some lists that will make life easier for my children when they come to cope with my death.
But I have not yet moved from a large house, suitable for when my children were home, and still own a lot of things that should properly be moved elsewhere.
More importantly, I have numerous projects still to go. I am nearly finished with one book and am planning another. There are books I want to read.
My family photographs are in a mess and need to be sorted if those who remain behind want to know who was who. A long list of things To Be Done sits on my desk.
And there are aims for the future that will never get finished. I want to see my grandsons grow up and find out what they choose to do with their lives. If I live long enough, I will feel the same about any potential great-grandchildren. So, there is no end ever in sight.
We don’t stop until we are stopped. At that point, we will be in the middle of loads of things. There will always be a long To Do list. In short, we will be in the middle of a sentence.
And this is how it should be.
Have you started getting your life in order? Do you feel you will ever succeed? How many tasks are on your To Do list now? How many have you already tackled? Let’s have a conversation!