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What are we to do with our short lives?

The meaning of life is that it stops.

I hope reading that sentence placed at least a comma in the flow of your life. What did Franz Kafka mean when he wrote it?

Our time on this earth ends. In all cases. There’s a full stop. For some, the full stop comes at the end of a long, winding tome; for others, it intrudes early in the story. But for all of us, life ends.

Two things. First, we don’t know when our full stop is coming. Really, we don’t. We may expect to live seven decades or more, but that’s just playing probabilities. You probably won’t die tomorrow, but you certainly might. Whoever you are.

Second, we don’t know what happens after we die. Really, we don’t. We might ascend to heaven or be plunged into hell. We may simply end this version of our reality and continue with others. Or we may just terminate. Some have faith to guide them beyond the full stop, others don’t. The full stop happens regardless of what we believe.

So then. It’s a short life, we don’t have much time, and we don’t know how much. So what are we going to do?

What are you going to do? Are you going to fritter your time away in arguments, for example? Lots and lots of puerile fights and squabbles? Much trading of insults, hurling of abuse, petty scoring of points? Many do that, incessantly and repetitively, and I wonder how much time they think they have to actually live.

Perhaps you think the key purpose is to accumulate wealth, as pretty much everyone in this country seems to. Do the deals. Beat the competition. Fight for the bonus. Scrabble for more, and more, and more. Be what Steve Jobs said he wouldn’t be: the richest person in the cemetery.

What’s the game here? People, it all stops. You don’t take it with you, that wealth you waste every precious moment piling up around you. It gives you some freedoms and some pleasures, no doubt; but what next? After a while, it’s just the mounting stress of ownership and the creeping fear of loss. Money is not the juicer that allows you to squeeze more drops of joy out of this existence than anyone else. And if money doesn’t give you much happiness in your life, it won’t give it to your heirs and descendants either.

Life is not lived in the race to outdo others, to have more than them, to sneer and put them down, to snatch and grab. Life is lived, truly lived, in good moments: moments of peace, moments of goodwill, moments of contentment, moments of wonder, moments of accomplishment. No individual moment lasts, but taken together, they add up to a good life.

If we want to trade those precious moments for many more moments of bile, cynicism, envy and self-adoration, that’s our choice to make.

There is great beauty on this earth. The sun shines through the leaves, and we miss it. Children laugh, and we don’t hear them. People are kind, and we ignore them. All because we don’t know which moments to treasure, and which ones to discard quickly.

A life’s purpose is to build something, improve something, leave this place a little better than you found it. Some will produce great works, others small accomplishments. The point is to do something, anything, that adds to all that’s good in the world. To do it well, with good intention, and with all our heart. Then, we are alive.

It’s not for me to tell you how to spend your remaining time. Just know it will end soon, and don’t get into a last-minute panic searching for the point of it all as the end approaches. The point is all around you, every day.

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  • Sunny, a different but an interesting article today. Is there really a full stop at the end? We learn that energy cannot be created or destroyed but transforms from one form to another. If so, are we really anything other than packets of energy? Maybe there are exceptions to this law of physics, but I don’t know of any. What if we suggest there is no such thing as death but simply a shift in frequency (a form of energy) which remains operational, but out of range from mortals left behind. What if our experiences on earth remain intact in a repository of sorts somewhere in “ether” and we use this as a reference when we move to another frequency – is that completely impossible? It’s just that we don’t know for sure. This leads to the question, “what is then our purpose on earth if it all ends in a few decades”? Some authors and scriptures (like Deepak Copra and the Vedas respectively) suggest our only purpose is to find out who we are (by experiencing who we are not – the ying-yang theory). Chasing money to find happiness is a necessary evil simply to learn first hand this doesn’t really work as the rich also cry. We are infants in the discovery of self and will need to go through growing pains by doing all the wrong things you have so aptly described in your article. If we only have seven or eight decades to discover who we are, it’s just not worth it as we’ll only begin to scratch the surface of experiencing who we are not. Imagine your boss saying you’ve earned a well deserved vacation to your favourite holiday spot but must return in 24 hours – would it be worth the hassle of packing your bags and waiting at the airport lounge for two hours, after having beaten the traffic just to return as soon as you get there? I doubt it. We usually return to our favourite holiday spot to discover different facets about it, don’t we all – why then should the cycle of life/death be any different? Have a pleasant Sunday and keep up the great work you are doing – always look forward to reading your column.

    • Manmit:

      Indeed, the only “full stop” I was referring to is the one that ends THIS life. That one will definitely happen. Whether it terminates only the body, and whether consciousness, energy or spirit continues – we’ll find out!

      The point is make the most of the moments that make up THIS reality, to use them to learn and to appreciate, not to moan and accumulate…

  • Mike Muchiri

    Beaaaauuuuutiful article as always Sunny, I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. In my short life so far (I’m only 60 years young 🙂 ) I’ve tried to live up to the Christian mantra of service to God and fellow human beings as the ultimate expression of Love. Interestingly I’ve discovered in my life that the more I serve God and others, the much happier and peaceful I become and hence I always endeavor to selfishly put others before me for my own happiness sake.

    Anyway enough about me, truth be told Sunny, most people will always waste their lives chasing shadows, never listening to good advice like yours, always wasting those precious moments to enjoy life, waiting for the big day when they’ll finally become happy and peaceful and all will be well with them, but this NEVER happens. Such is human nature I’m afraid, to waste our lives searching for gold thats right under our feet.

    Godspeed Sunny,

    Mike Muchiri,

    • Mike:

      Indeed the sad thing is how many people wait for the mythical time in the future when they have accumulated enough, that they will begin to enjoy life…what a waste of moments.

  • Stephen musyoki

    The full stop……..it happen any time anywhere and to anybody.what matters is what you do with moment you have.a great piece sunny.thanx very much.

  • James Wainaina

    Sunny, am a little late to reply but your article reminded me of the following story I read while I was back in high school….

    A man stood to speak
    At the funeral of a friend.
    He referred to the dates on her tombstone
    From the beginning…to the end.
    He noted that first came her date of birth,
    And spoke the following date with tears,
    But he said what mattered most of all
    Was the dash between those years. (1934-2002)
    For that dash represents all the time
    That she spent alive on earth…
    And now only those who loved her
    Know what that little line is worth
    For it matters not, how much we own;
    The cars… the house… the cash,
    What matters is how we live and love
    And how we spend our dash.
    So think about this long and hard…
    Are there things you’d like to change?
    For you never know how much time is left,
    That can still be rearranged.
    If we could just slow down enough
    To consider what’s true and real,
    And always try to understand
    The way other people feel.
    And be less quick to anger,
    And show appreciation more
    And love the people in our lives
    Like we’ve never loved before.
    If we treat each other with respect,
    And more often wear a smile.
    Remembering that this special dash
    Might only last a little while
    So, when your eulogy’s being read
    With your life’s actions to rehash…
    Would you be proud of the things they say
    About how you spent your dash?
    If you have received this, it means that you are truly
    special to the one who sent this to you.
    I’m Glad You’re In My Dash!!!

    Live so that you will be missed!!!

    Thank-You all my friends for being in my dash ~

  • Oketch S.M

    Amazing article I must say, we get so caught up with life looking for money that we forget that it will all end someday. Thanks cannot wait to read some more……………..