An excerpt from the book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (the quote is by Steve Jobs in the last two years of his life): “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. Because almost everything… all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure… these things just fall away in the face of death. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose.”
Facing death can certainly help you to prioritize and decide what’s important or not. In monasticism there is the discipline of Memento Mori which means “Remember death.” This is neither morbid nor negative. Keeping aware each day that this may in fact be the last day helps to not sweat the small stuff. Remembering death is not life-constricting but instead life-liberating.
What Steve Jobs and Memento Mori are talking about is shocking a person into realizing what is important and what is ephemeral. The cultivation of this mental discipline enables one to prioritize the issues that life and the Divine present each day. In remembering death the issue of one’s willingness is transfigured into the realization that one must change. As I stood at the gates of the Royal Mausoleum in Nu’uanu and stared at the names of Hawaiʻi’s Kings and Queens on the walls I thought “Now you know. Now you know what we are only guessing at. Are you at peace? How do you still help the children of the Hawaiian family in today’s increasingly non-Hawaiian world?”
I came across a Hawaiian proverb which reminds me of Memento Mori: He lawai’a no ke kai papa’u, he pokole kea ho; he lawai’a no ke kai hohonu he loa kea ho. The translation given for this is that a fisherman of shallow seas uses only a short line; a fisherman of the deep sea uses a long line. The explanation of the translation is: You will reach only as far as you aim and prepare yourself to reach. Are we preparing to reach into eternity? Are we aiming for God? Do we value the eternity that we are already in?