Thursday, August 16, 2012

Legendary Leaders: Haunted by Death

Part of what makes up the mindset of a Legendary Leader is the commitment to leaving a legacy: an opus that says, “This is who I was; this is who and what was important to me.” Of course, to think this way means that they have come to grips with the reality of their mortality. 
The topic of death is pretty much non-existent, today. At best, we may speak of it conceptually but it is quite rare for individuals to fully face the reality that they are going to die. In fact, many of us do everything in our power to avoid thinking about it. Some of us throw ourselves into our work, giving no thought to “for tomorrow you may die.” Some of us eat and drink our selves into oblivion. Some of us check out, living life on autopilot. Some of us adopt health fads, not so much as to be healthy but as a way of cheating death. Or so we hope. Our more spiritual brethren often create religious escape routes: “Live in the moment, giving no thought of tomorrow … and to the reality that I will die one day,” “I will not die: Jesus is coming back!” In doing any of this, however, we cut our selves off from living life to its fullest, to making every moment count, and to answering the question, “And what of my legacy?”

My Terrors
When I was a boy the prospect of death terrified me. Whether it was the friend of my sister's losing the horizon at night and flying his plane into the ocean, my Uncle dying from a heart attack, or a friend and schoolmate robbed and clubbed to death, each experience left me paralyzed with a fear that would leave me numb for weeks.
             I intuited that I needed to come to grips with death but whenever I thought about it my brain locked up.
             Being raised in a Christian home (my dad was a minister) I heard plenty of sermons about “waking to be with the Lord,” but these didn’t do a lot for me. In fact, I was horrified by funerals where it seemed to me people were celebrating the fact that the dead individual was gone! Yes, yes, I know in the Christian religion the belief is that this person is now with his God. But even St Paul said we were not to grieve as those who have no faith, which presupposes there is still grief. Anyway—
While I did my best to avoid thinking about death, off-and-on death would creep up on me, unexpectedly. I remembered while in my twenties actually praying that my grandfather (Monte Sr.) would never die. The thought of being in a world without him terrified me, as did all funerals, graveyards, and obituary columns.
My drug of choice for years was my religion. It wasn’t so much that what I believed wasn’t the Truth, but the fact that I got there on the cheap. I adopted my beliefs, not in faith, but in fear. I didn’t discover the Truth so much as glob on to a convenient belief that would help me avoid and pretend.
             When this belief stopped working for me, I adopted the “live in the moment” approach to life. Ultimately, I discovered that this too (for me) was a cop out: a kind of psychological ADD where I didn’t think about future consequences and realities: “All there is, is NOW!” But death was always close at hand, sometimes whispering, sometimes yelling at me.
Then there is the nihilistic mindset where life has no objective meaning, so all is vanity: Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. In these people’s minds their epitaph will read, “Whatever.” But this copout never appealed to me. Why? Because somewhere inside me I knew that life mattered, that there was a reason for my existence. And I discovered that this was one of the reasons why I could never trivialize our marginalize death: why it was such a huge deal to me.

Coming next: Embracing Your Mortality

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment