It is easy to throw wise quotes on the finiteness of life. We are all aware that life is finite, we are going to die and our bodies will become particles of dust traveling across the universe. However, knowing something does not necessarily entail understanding. Even more so, when we are talking about death, one of the most taboo topics in our lives.
For some reason, the idea of life’s finiteness has been lingering in my head for some time. Several months ago, I turned 30. Usually, my life would go on as usual after a light dinner with my family members and relatives. Not this time around. Things were different. I do not know why. Perhaps, it has to do with the roundedness of the number 30. Perhaps, it has to do with the fact that 30 is about half of 72, the average life expectancy on our planet. But, a deep sense of shortness of life has not been going away from my mind.
It seems 30 years is a lot of time. I could remember many things, indeed. I can still remember my 4th birthday. I remember how my parents held a fantastic birthday party in their tiny student dormitory room. I remember how I played with my friends. I still have photos from that day. But, these 26 years since then have passed like an instant. They say life passes faster as we grow old. It is scary to imagine how fast the future years will pass.
Speaking about fear, is the idea of the finiteness of human life something scary, or perhaps gloomy? Should it stifle our will to create, love, share, and explore? Or should it force us to do those things with even greater energy, perhaps with a healthy sense of urgency? I can remember the words of Steve Jobs. His legendary commencement speech. In his speech, he talked about death and our limited time on this planet. As the energy of his words is so overwhelming, let me provide the whole excerpt without me paraphrasing it.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.
…Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. …
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
The idea of death was not something far-fetched to Steve Jobs as he was sharing his speech. At that time Steve Jobs was already fighting pancreatic cancer. He perfectly understood the shortness of life and wanted to convey this simple reminder to fresh graduates. He has done more than that. His speech has spread across the entire globe and inspired millions to follow their inner dreams.
The magic of this speech lies in the transformation of a seemingly negative element, death, into something positive, something that propels us to live our dreams and principles. Looking from this lens, the shortness of life metamorphoses from an ugly worm gnawing on personal happiness into a butterfly lifting a person into heights of dreams, ideals, and inspirations. What a beautiful butterfly that is.