I’d like to have my papers in order when I die. It’s about sparing my loved ones, of course. (Or is it actually to tidy me up? Didn’t our mothers say you should change your underwear, just in case you landed in an accident?) So I’ve been making periodic stabs this year at the journals, files, boxes of research, projects in their various stages. I got rid of that pile of index cards on which I traced the chronology of a man about whom I was tempted to write a biography (a better one than existed, I mean). I dumped a few folders of articles I’d clipped that, seriously, I will never use. I transcribed a year of diary.
Lately, the call to review and pare seems urgent. But sometimes I’ll be struck by the fear that thinking about death and acting in this anticipatory way is some kind of signal that it’s just around the corner.
At a rational level, I know the notion that thinking about death will make it happen simply isn’t true! Still, my death is coming, and closer now than twenty years ago. And as much as it scares me, I can’t run away from the thought but have to keep thinking it, once a day for sure, that I will die. Memento mori, I need to tell myself. Remember you will die.
Once I push past my instinctive resistance, it’s rewarding, actually, because thinking about death is a door: it opens to further thoughts — of my relationships and faith and what I love about living and what I’m grateful for and also what I know about dying, that it’s a seed from which the resurrection springs.
If thinking about death also triggers practical actions like personal directives or culling the detritus, it’s a good thing. If it has me saying what Chaplain Rob Ruff called “the most important words to the most important people in your life: Forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you,” that’s even better.