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Thursday, May 12, 2016

“What are you waiting for?”

I’ve been thinking lately about my last hurrah, that "final appearance or effort, especially at the end of a career.”* I’d fiddle with that definition a bit, so that the emphasis would not be on a career but on a life, and on “effort” more than “appearance.”

And so I’ve been asking myself these past few months: what do I want to spend the last part of my life doing? Where do I want to direct my energy, my talents, my passion? I have an inkling, though I’m not yet sure I’m nearing that last part.

As if any of us would know when that's due to arrive.

But the fact that I’m thinking about it makes me wonder what it would take to fully commit to one's last hurrah? What changes would need to be made in one’s current lifestyle? Would other people—both known and yet known—factor into the process? Would oodles of cash be necessary? Or maybe lots of time at the gym?

These questions were quietly circling as I read the essay “Songs of Transition” in the New York Times. It’s from the January 3, 2016 print issue, which had buried itself for months under one of the several stacks of paper spread throughout my untidy apartment.

What first drew me to the piece was the description of the author Jennifer L. Hollis. She’s a music thanatologist, a job title I’d never heard of.  Here’s how she describes it:

I am a music thanatologist, trained to offer music in a prescriptive way, to create a calm space for dying patients and their families.

I was hooked and so kept reading. Then when I came to this part—where Ms. Hollis describes what being in the presence of death reminds her of—those circling questions got a bit louder,  especially when I read this sentence, “What are you waiting for?”

I feel pure astonishment in the presence of death. Who am I to be there? I feel the stillness of time and also its relentless push forward. As they leave, these patients remind me of my own body’s fragility and willfulness. By inviting me to witness their death, they teach me to live, to craft a life with joy and attention. They call me to be bold. What are you waiting for? I imagine them asking, as the door of their life gently closes.

Now I’ve been in the presence of death, and especially early in my life, and have always accepted that there are no guarantees as to how long any of us has to live. And that even if long-lived our lives are astonishingly short.

Has that life-long realization made me bold? Not especially, though I have gone out on some pretty interesting limbs through the years.  But I could’ve been bolder. And the good news is, I still can be.

Maybe that’s what one’s Last Hurrah is finally all about: heeding the call to be bold.


To read Ms. Hollis’s essay and get your own bold on, click here:

 *as described in the online free dictionary.

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