Sorry, it's too late, your life ends tomorrow. Did you have a good one? Think hard, there isn't much time.
“Come in, my friend, find a space. I know it doesn’t look very pleasant but the pain doesn’t bother me too much as long as I can keep the morphine topped up…there we go. Jean! Can you get my friend a coffee? Sit yourself down; it’s a nice sofa, isn’t it? Cream leather, with invisible stitching, and mahogany inlays. I would have had walnut, but it doesn’t match the wall unit, but the leather matches the car interior very well; I upgraded to the new Range Rover Sport 3 months ago, after I heard about the latest tumour. We thought, ‘What the hell? The life insurance will cover that, and the Lexus.’ I don’t want Jean going without; she’s used to this way of life, and I’m not going to deny her that after I’m gone.”
“Gerry came in earlier. You know Gerry? He worked with me at Chase Morgan before the bond débacle. They found me out, as you know, but I took half the department down with me. I wasn’t going to let them know who really bought those junk bonds; Mali is a growing oil market, and we all have to make a buck where we can.”
“Well, anyway, Gerry has just come back from Mauritius. It only seems like yesterday he was in Kenya. He says he can work remotely, just in case the boys need some advice, so can always swing an extra trip. You know what our gang were like, always off on some jolly. Some guy at BA told us we could offset our flights, which sounded like something guilty people do, but then that extra bottle of Veuve Clicquot was calling to me and I had no loose change. Next time maybe. Maybe not.”
“How are the tennis lessons coming along? Did you try Lucy’s club? She’ll make an excellent coach, don’t you think? Chip off the old block, as they say. I wish I’d spent more time playing myself, but what with work, those late nights at the wine bar – comes with the territory, really – weekends at the villa; I couldn’t pack any more in.”
“I’ve had a really good life, when you think about it. Look around – have you seen a better parquet than the one in the sitting room? And when I look out of the window, I know that most of that is mine. It’s a great feeling. No, I’ve got no regrets - life’s for living, isn’t it?”
-----By the time you come to the end of your life, there is little you can do to change the impact that you have had on others – be they friends, family, strangers, animals, the air we breath. You could lay to rest old feuds, show people that you didn’t really mean what you said, be forgiven by those that were angry with you; but you have already trodden a physical path between your coming and your going, and that is not going to be undone. Self evaluation is an important part of what keeps people motivated; after all, if I’m not going to do good things during my life, then when else am I going to do them? Maybe you believe in an afterlife - that you can repent your actions (or lack of them) on your deathbed. We all have our right to beliefs and wishes, but whatever may happen to your soul after you are gone has nothing to do with what will continue to happen in the physical world. The point I am trying to make is that, because the mere fact of sharing a world with other living creatures has an impact on their lives – however small – and that humans are at the very top of the global ecological network, it really does matter what kind of life we lead.
“Rachel, I won’t be able to make it this afternoon. Yes, I’m having a few problems today and couldn’t get into work this morning. I hope you can find someone to cover – it’s hard enough looking after things when everyone’s well. That’s very nice of you. I hope so too. See you later.”
“Oh, hello. Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Sorry about the mess, I’ve been trying to keep the place tidy, but haven’t got the energy lately. If you’re going past Oxfam this afternoon could you pop in and see if they need any help? That’s really kind, I hate to let them down. Do you want a tea? There are some bags in the jar by the kettle; mind the boxes, I’ve asked Julie to pack up some of my old clothes for the recycling – I don’t think I’ll be needing them any more.”
“She does so much for me, does Julie. I wish I could afford to pay her petrol money. I got rid of the car last month – hardly used it anyway, what with the pollution, I’d feel bad driving to work when I can cycle, but it’s so bad for my lungs. I reckon it’s the traffic that’s made my asthma so bad over the years; I could hardly catch my breath yesterday…excuse me (inhales)…sorry, I hate for you to see me like this. The hospital are delivering my new nebulizer tomorrow, but it hardly seems to help when I do use one.”
“I was looking at some photos this morning; Linda and I had our honeymoon 40 years ago last month. I wish she could have been here, but Julie gave me a lift down to the cemetery, and I said what I had to. It was difficult to concentrate with the aircraft going over, off to sunny places I suppose. We had our honeymoon at the seaside, at the same hotel we stayed at for years after – it wasn’t too posh, but we liked it. We loved getting the train; didn’t seem any point driving as we’d only be stuck in a traffic jam.”
“The airport are trying to get planning permission to extend the runway, and they want to move a bit of the cemetery. Progress, I suppose, but they want to move Linda’s plot, and I can’t stand the thought of that. Why can’t they just leave things alone? I mustn’t complain too much, but sometimes life feels so unfair – some people have it so much better.”
Someone in James’ position might feel they have led a modest, possibly unfortunate life; things have not always gone as they should have. But look at the two stories again. There is such a fundamental difference that it might not be obvious: Alan is a taker. He has worked hard for his money, granted, but his lifestyle is one of luxury, consumption and, some may say, excess. He has no regrets, and in his world everything is there for the taking. In James’ world, things are there to be shared out; people do what they can to help others, they do not consume to excess – even if he had the money to, he wouldn’t.
I am not trying to judge individual actions here - most of us would enjoy a holiday in a far-off country, and revel in a beautiful view from our bedroom window – or how much money people earn : I am judging the motivation of everyone who inhabits this planet. I believe the goodness of our lives is determined by what motivates us. What motivates an individual in their life may range from survival, through to living in the lap of luxury; from having so much more than everyone else – money, status, material goods – to wanting all things to be equal; from saving oneself to saving the planet.
I can’t begin to say how much I admire people who give up all their worldly goods to fight for a cause they really believe in, and put up with the constant shouts of “get a job” and “get a life” from others, that seems to come with the territory. The protestor believes that some things are far more important than wealth and the accumulation of consumer goods. But to very many people, the sole motivation in life is to go from one life stage to another – job, house, children, retirement – and then what? After the achievements have been counted; the house, holidays, cars, TVs and savings added together; what is there to show for a life in which little thought was ever given for the people outside your immediate family and circle of friends, and the world beyond your doorstep? If you need to change, I hope you still have time.