Many years ago, a friend told me a story that comes to mind on occasion. It reappeared several weeks ago and has been stubbornly hanging around. Perhaps it stayed long enough this time so I could share it with you.
A man approached a small town on his travels across the country. Not knowing anyone in the town, he wandered the streets to get a feel for it, as was his habit in each new place he visited.
He stumbled upon the local cemetery, a well-groomed plot of land fresh with flowers and other remembrances. Examining the headstones as he passed from row to row, the man was increasingly perplexed to the point of disbelief. The markers told of townspeople who died at shockingly young ages.
He wondered what kind of calamity had struck these people.
He left the cemetery with some haste and beckoned the first person he saw on the street. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’m new to town and….” He looked over his shoulder, pointing toward the cemetery.
“You’ve seen the headstones, have you?”
“Yes,” he said. “One of them said 9 years, 3 months. Another said 15 years, 6 months. Most everyone in this town died so young. I didn’t see a person over thirty years old. What could possibly have happened here?”
She smiled and said, “Those aren’t the ages of the people when they died. That’s the amount of time they actually lived when they were alive.”
Take some time to ask yourself: How much am I really living? Is my time being spent on things that really don’t matter? Am I having the kind of life I want or have I already resigned myself to merely existing until my headstone is put in place?
I remember giving a presentation about a year and a half ago at a government agency. A relatively young man sat in the back of the room. From time to time he would offer comments on the topics I was talking about. At one point, we got into a discussion about something and it quickly became clear to me that this young man had already placed his own figurative headstone on his life.
“So you believe that where you are now in life is pretty much where you’re going to be for the rest of your life?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said, “I don’t see anything changing.”
I don’t get surprised in class very much, but I was really taken aback by his response. I had to ask him: “How old are you?”
“Thirty-six,” he said.
The audience gave a collective gasp. They couldn’t believe their ears.
My initial sadness at hearing his response later changed to a larger realization: How many of us are living our lives the same way as this young man? Perhaps the biggest difference between us and him is he knows it and has admitted it to himself. He even had the courage to say it out loud. That’s not to agree with his attitude, but to realize that what he said may be the way we’re actually living.
How many years have you fooled yourself that you were really living?
To honestly answer that question, you need to decide what it means for you to truly live.