It wasn’t a surprise when Martin received a C in his first speech class in graduate school. Martin’s intellect, depth, and passion burned bright, but he stuttered and his speech impediment was tripping him up. Then one day, as if by miracle, his speech impediment disappeared. Martin’s friend Harry once asked him about how he was able to leave his stutter behind. Martin explained, “Once I accepted death, I stopped being bedeviled by these things.” Accepting and facing the fact of limited time has a clarifying and cleansing effect. No longer afflicted with a stutter, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went on to become one of the most famous orators of all time. And accepting death didn’t just improve the way he spoke, but gave him courage to live the life to which he was called and contribute to a higher cause.
Finding one’s true destiny always involves a deeper awareness of death. Otherwise, the fear of death holds us back from having the courage to accomplish our dreams. Steve Jobs put it this way: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Death distills life into its simplest form. Death can build courage, but it can also take it away.
In the face of death, the grief of loss can overwhelm. When my friend Todd lost his dad he said, “The sun will never shine the same.” Death does distill, but it can also diminish and overwhelm. When Candy Chang was processing her grief over the death of a close friend, she began asking questions like, “How do I now find joy in the everyday?” and “How can we live the life we have to its fullest degree?” In the face of darkness, questions like these help us begin to see the light. Chang decided to pursue these questions further by creating a small art project to help her process the pain.
- WALK AROUND FEELING LIKE A LEAF. KNOW YOU COULD TUMBLE AT ANY SECOND. THEN DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR TIME.
- — NAOMI SHIHAB NYE