The role of a fully realized human being is to arrive at the door of death having become oneself. ~Michael Meade
In an old issue of Sun magazine, I ran across an article that featured the author Michael Meade. A natural storyteller, Meade tells us about an African proverb with the following moral: “When death finds you, may it find you alive.”
At first glance, the words don’t seem to make sense. Of course, death will find you alive. You’ve got to first be alive in order to die. But Meade goes on to explain the proverb’s meaning like this:
Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live. That’s the way to evaluate whether you’re an authentic person or not.
Are you living an authentic life?
It all comes back to purpose and a question we need to ask of ourselves: Am I being true to my inner compass, following the life my soul wants, doing the things I was put on this planet to do? Or am I living in a sort of suspended animation, waiting for the right time to make a move, while living a life of unfulfilled potential and quiet discontent?
These questions are important because time is something we can’t stop or even slow down. Before we know it, days, weeks, years have slipped by. (Can it really be 2022?) I’m reminded of the words of a now deceased friend Jim:
“One day you wake up and look in the mirror and you realize you’re an old person—and you wonder, where did the time go?”
For a while I understood what Jim had told me but could not totally relate to it. Now I can. Like many of my Wake Up Call readers, I have reached the third and final phase of my life. I look in the mirror and see the age lines growing more distinct. I awaken in the morning and my body is just a little stiffer; it takes a little longer to get out of bed.
That’s no reason for despair. If anything, our advancing age gives us a little more freedom. We have put our time in, paid our dues, and can follow Mead’s lead to “live our own damn life” with less consequences. Sure, we can pursue an authentic life for our own self-centered reasons—but it also represents an opportunity to give back to our family, our community, the world. The reason:
We’re not just growing older. We’re becoming “elders.”
Michael Meade instructs us that there is a difference between being “older” and being an “elder.” The first happens to us without us lifting a finger. We naturally grow older. But becoming an elder requires our active involvement. It involves living authentically and with purpose. Meade explains:
When older people become elders, they act not out of fear, but out of wisdom and understanding. They’re not sitting at death’s door still trying to check their portfolios online. Elders feel inspired to give back the wisdom they’ve extracted from life and not simply be receiving material benefits.
Give back the wisdom we took from life? But how? Deli owner and life philosopher Ari Weinzweig reminds us to: Think one step at a time. “Simply being purposeful, can, in itself, be a powerful purpose.” Consider what small step you can take each day to add a little more knowledge, or more joy, or more love, to those around you. In Meade’s words, our goal should be to:
Live a passionate, imaginative, meaningful life right up to the last moment.
You are never too old (or too young) to take this step and it can happen with your next action. Make a list of the things you want to do. The people you want to connect to. The steps you need to take to live your most authentic life. For inspiration, remember these words of encouragement offered by Mahatma Gandhi while in his 70s:
It is nonsense for you to talk of old age so long as you outrun young men in the race for service, fill rooms with your laughter, and inspire youth with hope when they are on the brink of despair.
It’s time. Let’s go for it. Let’s be the people we were meant to be.