Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End Review

"Fast Away the Old Year Passes"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

On this last day of 2015, almost everywhere I look throughout the various media I see some sort of year end review -  pictures, stories and reports of the year now coming to the end-- stories about terrorism, bombings, shootings, immigrants, refugees and presidential campaigning, lists of failures, defeats as well as lists of accomplishments.

I suppose it’s only natural for us to look back and review what went on at the end of a year.  Just this morning I was thinking about all the stuff that happened in my own life over 2015, and as I was doing this I suddenly remembered something I read a while back about the kind of life end review that people often engage in as they lay on a death bed. Many times, when people are dying they experience a certain clarity about what is really important about living.

Dr. Ira Byock, a nationally renowned hospice-care physician, has witnessed and documented thousands of death-bed experiences; and he discovered that, when people come to the end of their lives and stand at the threshold of death, almost everyone says some very similar things in their final breaths. Dr. Byock has distilled these “end of life” statements into four very basic sentiments:

Please forgive me
I forgive you
Thank you
I love you

As I think about it, these simple yet profound statements really do lie at the very core of our common humanity- they may be the things we say when we die but they beautifully express what it means to be fully alive.  What really matters, endures and gives meaning to our living is:


So many of us devote a lifetime doing the things that, in the end, don’t really matter all that much – building a career, climbing the ladder of success, accumulating more and more stuff, holding onto anger or grudges, constantly seeking the praise of others. But in the end most of us will not use our last breaths to inquire about our bank balance or ask to see a copy of a business report.  Instead we will look to the people who have surrounded us in life and we will seek or offer forgiveness, thank them, and tell them how much we love them.

People who are dying remind us about what is important about living.

I recall something Eckhart Tolle once said:

Death is the stripping away of all that is not you.
The secret of life is to ‘die before you die’
And find there is no death.

As I do my own year end review on this last day of 2015, I am asking myself those questions about what really matters in life. Over this past year how well did I seek and offer forgiveness? Was I grateful for my life? How well did I love? Everything else that happened was not at the core of who I really am and can be stripped away.

2016 is a good year for me to die before I die.

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