When people say life is short, I used to think… not really. It’s finite, which might produce the same implications and feelings. But when I considered all that could fit into an hour or day, life did not feel short.
At age 34, it does feel pretty short now. One natural way to frame the passage of time is in four-year increments. High school. College. Presidential terms. Olympics. These have tidy start and end dates and are maybe formative periods or distinct chapters.
Well I’ve been out of college for over three colleges now. I try to picture freshman year, being in a dorm for the first time, learning to drink and making friends who never heard of Plano, Texas. Sophomore year, figuring out majors and career path because clearly that won’t change. Junior year, living by cornfields in Illinois fall semester and castles in Prague spring semester. Senior year, still a virgin until May, which my wife loves to bring up for no reason as if I should be embarrassed about saving myself for the right time to get drunk with the right girl.
Freshman to senior year — I’ve lived that three times since already. And it’s picking up speed. Days or weeks might feel slow here and there, but larger increments are flying. Everyone I talk to agrees. How is it March already?
A big reason for the perceived acceleration is the workweek-weekend pendulum. Toss a few trips on the calendar, and the pages flip like crazy.
Moreover, each passing unit of time is a smaller percentage of your total life span. Kindergarten must have felt like a beast, increasing my life experience 20 percent. This year, that percentage is down to 3.
It makes sense to extend the four-year benchmark as you get older. If I instead measured life in eight-year segments, there’s really not that much left. My parents turn 65 this year; this is the home stretch for them.
I’ve said our 30s are a good age to work on accepting our parents are going to die. More than a few friends recently have needed to stare down this reality during close calls. My own dad statistically should be dead instead of group-texting pictures of him drinking IPAs in his Blink 182 shirt.
Our 50s seem like a solid time to come to terms with our own expiration. It’s really not all that far off for me now. A couple of eight-year flashes, and I’m there. There’s just not that much time to begin with after all.
My closest friend from college and I got to reconnect in Chicago over the weekend and realized we only really knew each other for two years. We flip-flopped study abroad semesters, and he graduated a year early. So two years, then different cities, and we catch each other what, maybe 20 more times? Twenty time-lapse snapshots showing unrelenting age, and that’s a wrap? Life truly is short if you want a decent amount out of it.
We were together this time for the funeral of an amazing person, husband of a dear friend from freshman year. It’s not my story to tell, so I’ll share what’s in public domain along with a light suggestion. Even for someone like me, for whom empathy doesn’t naturally sink in past a few outer layers, it’s not hard to picture yourself in this situation:
I propose the next time you’re about to go out to eat with your partner, stay in instead and just mindfully enjoy the company. Donate the bill to my friend, whether it would have been Steak ’n Shake or steak and lobster. Maybe make some PB&J’s and wash them down with reflection and appreciation. It might be worth the trade one time.
Because humans are so remarkably adaptable, we can’t sustain that level of gratitude on a daily basis without incredible meditative skills or hard drugs. We will always go back to taking things for granted, so check-ins and resets are fantastic.
The goal doesn’t have to be hug what you have, carpe diem every waking minute. On the bad days, remembering life is short should in theory take the edge off stress or depression. You can find comfort that in the big picture, this stuff isn’t going to last forever or even very long.
I hope that doesn’t come across as morbid. I mean it in a pragmatic, productive, self-therapy-hack kind of way. We’re all in this together and should help each other make sense of the time we have.
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.