One day I was asked to give a talk about death at the Rime Buddhist Center. So I had to spend a few weeks thinking about death.
I think my talks are really centered in a few things. Being really open and genuine. But also having a sense of humor. I still haven’t settled on how I can use humor in this talk.
If you want to hear the talk I gave, you can go listen to it here:
I want to tell you a story about death because it’s on my mind.
There was this singer and musician named Warren Zevon. He was active from the 70s until 2003 and he achieved moderate fame. You may or may not know who he was and that’s okay. You should look him up though. He didn’t make Jay-Z money, but I’m sure he was successful enough to have a comfortable life.
Warren was someone who hated going to the doctor. If he saw medical care more regularly, they probably would have discovered sooner that he had mesothelioma. By the time he found out, the doctors told him that there wasn’t much they could do. He was in his early 50s and he was going to die within 12-15 months.
Warren decided to record one more album. He had enough time to do that. On that album he wrote a song for his wife called, “Keep Me In Your Heart For a While”. You should give it a listen some time. I think it’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. And also it makes me think of my mom and dad, especially with this line, “When you’re doing simple things around the house, maybe you’ll think of me and smile.” It really makes me feel feelings.
I left out that Warren had a famous super fan. Late night host David Letterman was a fan. He had Warren as a musical guest many many times throughout his career. And after Warren got his diagnosis, he went on Letterman. Dave had a whole episode where Warren Zevon was the only guest. Warren must have been a pretty open person because they talked at length about his terminal illness.
Letterman asked him if his approach to life and music had changed since he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
He told Letterman:
“You put more value on every minute…You know I always kinda thought I did that. I really always enjoyed myself. But it’s more valuable now. You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich and every minute of playing with the guys and being with the kids, and everything.”
We are often sleepwalking through life and not appreciating the little things. That’s enjoying every sandwich. We are letting life pass us by because we’re unmindful and distracted. We are letting things that don’t really matter bother us and that’s stealing what joy we have. We’re all going to die. Everyone knows this.
The poet Charles Bukowski said, “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”
That’s the situation we’re in. We’re going to die, but a lot of the time we aren’t truly living our best lives. We aren’t enjoying every sandwich. But we could.
In Buddhism we are training in mindfulness, wisdom, compassion, and love. These are the tools that can help us in this crazy world. We may not be able to add more years to our lives, but we can add more life to our years. We just have to really want it. We just have to be really motivated in our spiritual practice.
That’s it for now. But I want you to really think about what you’re focused on in your life and what you really value.