Pay It Forward
As you know, I'm a devoted tweaker of conventional wisdom. Here's the latest hangnail of a platitude:
“Live this day as if it's your last.”
It smacks of wisdom, doesn‘t it? It likely gives you pause, because it sounds so astute. So philosophical. So very deep.
The problem is, it’s also very wrong. This snippet of really bad advice, however inspirational it may sound, isn’t of wisdom, and it isn’t worthy of the universal acceptance given it. Here’s why:
First, none of us do it. Not one of us navigates our daily lives regarding every encounter from the perspective that we will never again experience it; moreover, none of us will ever do it, because if we knew that there was no tomorrow to answer to - human nature being what it is - we would either cower in fear with our rosaries and our loved ones, or take off on a twenty-four-hour bender. The real control freaks would find a tall structure from which to jump.
Second, why would anyone even want to go through their day looking at the world from a place of pressurized despair? Who, exactly, would that benefit? Sure, I would guess that most people would be kind (probably to the point of being annoying), patient, and more attuned to God - but why? Because there’s an “or else” anxiety in play? Which takes us to...
Third, living each day imagining that it's your last will tend to bring forth your most selfish attributes. The smiles, the patience, the love that you will show to others will be for your sake. Not theirs. Spending your final day within the sad futility of tidying up your own existence leaves no room for the needs of another.
That’s not exactly conducive to the authentic goodness that the faux-wisdom demands. You can’t capture the final serenity you would seek by serving your own fears.
So what’s the point?
Here’s the point:
If you truly try to live this day like it’s your last - and by some twist of fate, today is your final appearance among mortal man - then you probably spent your last hours completely enmeshed in yourself: In your sins, your mistakes, your regrets, and in direct confrontation with your own humanity. Basically, you were a self-centered, annoying, desperate kind of dead-man-walking who spent your final day completely oblivious to what life is really about. That, in and of itself, negates the intended message of the conventional wisdom of "living each day like it's your last."
Try this instead:
Smile at the people you come across today, in the hope that you reach the best part of them - or at least, temper the worst. Let people cut in front of you, then bless them. Feel compassion for an enemy and forgive him. Spend ten minutes sharing the sunset with our Father, and thank Him for His artistry. (And don't stalk your loved ones with syrupy sentiment. You'll freak them out. An extra "I love you" will do just fine.)
Find a need that has not been answered, and fill it well - only because someone is waiting for you to do so, and for no other reason.
In other words, live this day as if it’s the last for every person you encounter, and let them walk away with a little hope in their hearts. Do so, and the serenity of your last day will take care of itself.
See you next time.
Until then -