Story and Why
and Dying in Real Time
Tom Gilbert - Copyright © October 4, 2014
We are all doing it –
living and dying. And it is all happening right here, right now in real
time. But we don’t often think about it that way. That would
be a little too intense.
Yet in the quiet times, late at night on the back porch, lying in bed
as a new day dawns, in the corridors of hospital rooms while we wait
for news, news that might bring life or death, in those times it is
real and it is right now. Bob Dylan has a line in his song, It’s Alright, Ma. The line is, “He not busy
born is a-busy dying.”
As a teacher, writer and personal historian I can’t help but
confront this truth on a regular basis. I truly enjoy helping young
people discover new things. The joy of teaching outweighs the terrific
workload and hassle that sometimes comes with grading, administration,
and yes, even parents. For me, writing is a way to process this. I do
it with journaling. I do it with blogging. And I go deeper with
projects like a memoir. Personal History is the preservation of the
stories that come out of the living, the dying and the writing.
If you have pondered the purpose and meaning of life, both your own and
others, then you are a good candidate for preserving your life in
narrative form. We all have a story, the story that we are living each
day. It is rather difficult to make sense of it on any given day, or
moment. Life is happening and there are things planned for, the
expected. And there are the surprises. Breaking a shoestring. Being
laid off from a job. An unexpected pregnancy. Winning the lottery.
Getting diagnosed with cancer.
Reminiscing requires patience. Reflection done in a conscious way helps
us to ponder the significance of life. And for those things that
don’t make sense it is even more important to find time to
pause, think, question and discuss.
Many writers, artists and creative people can be loners…and
lonely. At the same time, they often crave the response and approval of
others. We can’t understand our lives inside the walls of
self. We need to interact and participate. I ping my ideas off others.
The ideas of others bounce around in my head and heart and stimulate
more thoughts. Anyone who has ever experienced the communion of
audience and artist can relate to the spiritual elation that sometimes
Finding the outlet for your story is not too hard. You can write a
memoir. Find someone to interview you. Turn on a recorder and talk.
Write an honest and heartfelt letter of what is truly important to you
that can become a legacy letter or ethical will your loved ones will
treasure long after you are gone.
Family can be the most challenging area. For me it is what I find
ultimately most important. At the same time it can be really hard to
connect on a deep and personal level. Intimacy involves risk. Creating
the environment for trust is not easy, especially when we carry around
hurts and resentments from past dealings. Human beings are flawed. Life
is messy. But we all share the universal desire to love and be loved.
Keep a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously
can be great advice. Ask Jimmy Buffet, singer and songwriter who titled
one of his albums, Living
and Dying in ¾ Time. It’s an album full of both lighthearted
and deeply reflective songs.
Yes, that title helped inspire the name for this post. Each day we
should be aware of the gift we have to be present to our lives. We are
all living and dying. How we respond is way more important than how we
In the movie Lullaby Richard
Jenkins plays a father who was given a diagnosis of six months that
stretched to 12 long painful years. He wants to die with dignity and on
his terms. Eventually he will, but the question becomes whether he can
be allowed to choose the time.
The family dynamics with his wife, son and daughter make up much of the
film’s story. I love when Jenkins’ character tells
his family gathered around his hospital bed, (paraphrasing),
“I love when the day comes on. Watching the sun rise. Being
with you is like watching that sunrise, over and over again.”
There it is, the endless sunrise, life dawning and unfolding before us.
The natural arc of the day will end in a sunset. There can be plenty of
beauty in that, too. This is real life, living and dying and embracing
it all. This is an appropriate sentiment on the feast day of one of the
world’s greatest saints, Francis of Assisi. He knew a lot
about living one day at a time and finding the sacred it every moment
and every created thing. He chose a path most of us would find
difficult, but it was genuine. He found the answer by letting go of
selfish desires and sharing his passion for life. That was some real