In perhaps a misguided attempt to explore what it means to “live well”, a couple months ago I bought a bunch of books on dying. Or more correctly, on living knowing you are dying. While everyone is dying, most people live like it will never happen to them. Rarely do you hear from those who are actively living a life with the full, active knowledge that they are dying. The Stoics say EVERYONE should live every day like this, and wrote in detail about how to do that. Unfortunately modern man tends to not consider death until it is too late. The ones who do write about it tend to have some kind of terminal illness that brings the question to the top of mind. So the most available modern thinkers on living well while dying are the rich, smart terminally ill. Like Peter Barton. Or Paul Kalanithi.
Barton is not a philosopher. He was a very successful and smart business man. The book (thankfully) doesn’t spend too much time on biography and all the self important things done in life (although Barton did some awesome things). Barton stays focused on what the cancer was TEACHING him about living. On how to separate the body and the mind/soul. On how to focus on building the present. Barton had a partner writer live with him and help write the book over the last 9 months of his life. While I understand why he did this (he was not a writer), the chapters trade off between Barton’s first person account and Shames’ second person account. I didn’t like that structure and wish it had all been first person (even if it was ghost written).
I guess what I am looking for in these books are the nuggets that become self evident when you know your days are numbered, that you should have figured out beforehand. Here are some of my favorites.
“… as death grows imminent, the fear of it no longer serves a purpose.”
“My frame of mind was something I could still control.”
“Don’t ask permission, just beg forgiveness. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with your foot on the accelerator. If you drive with one foot on the brake, you’re not for us.”
“No future. If that notion is surreal and terrifying, it is also vastly liberating.”
“…wealth is a great deal more enjoyable if you’ve already taught yourself that you can have a good time without it.”
“There’s a next level where the soul can go, and the body can’t. Not that dissolving a partnership is every easy. But the alternative is even worse. Let the sout be sullied by the complaints of the body, and you’ve lost not only in one of life’s arenas, but two. ”
“When I hurt, I hurt. But it’s the attitude toward the pain that makes all the difference. Pain can make you thoroughly miserable, or pain can just be pain.”
Overall, a worthwhile read, but not 5 stars due to the clunky structure and mixed narrative.
Also published on Medium.