Learned About Living From Someone Dying

I don’t want to die.

As far as I know, thankfully, I’m not dying.

But if we are being honest with one another, I am not all that comfortable thinking about my death. Imminent or otherwise.

But the fact of the matter is whether sudden or prolonged, we are all dancing our own path to the waterfall. We all eventually die.

I love my life. I love what it was. I love what it has become. I love what it is.

I also love thinking about what is to come.

What’s the next ocean to cross? What’s the next prose to read? What’s the next nuance to discover? What’s the next shadow to outwit? What’s the next concept to learn?

There are many questions I like to ask, like these.

Disentangling tomorrow is what I do.

It’s what I have always done.

I love today. I love each day.

But I am also hardwired to think about the day after today. Tomorrow is not just another day. It is the day of infinite possibility. Of perpetual positivism. What’s wrong can be righted. What’s problematic can be solved. What’s missing can be found. What’s learned can be unlearned.

Ultimately, today is thinking fodder for tomorrow. And I love tomorrow.

But if I know that my tomorrows are time limited, how should I act? Interact? React? If I know that my death is imminent due to a health-related diagnosis, how should I be?

What’s the plan, man?

Him? Here? Now?

No.

This is what you have taught me Gord Downie, poet and lead singer of the Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band.

It’s the lesson of the grand bounce.

When Downie announced on May 24 he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a type of terminal brain cancer, the entire country of Canada collectively gasped.

“Gord Downie? How could that be?”

But through his perseverance, Downie taught me (and thousands of others) an important lesson.

Whilst our tomorrows may physically cease one day due to a pending health-related death, it will continue for others. I have three children. Better half. Family. Friends. Loyal readers. Maybe there are more.

How I hold my head today—despite the inevitability of tomorrow ending—will be how I am remembered. To act in any less a manner would be selfish. Frankly it might even be wrong.

I have watched, listened and embraced Downie and the Tragically Hip from afar for a quarter of a century. How’d it get this late so early? But the way in which he has handled a recently completed 30-day tour across Canada has nothing on that period. Seven months ago Downie was told he had terminal cancer. Four months ago he had a craniotomy. One month ago he went on tour, performing a two-and-a-half hour concert every other night, fifteen different times.

Some say it’s courage. Of course it’s courageous.

But it’s more than courage.

During those concerts (where I attended several, including the last one in Kingston, Ontario) I came to realize Downie was defining his tomorrow, today.

This is what I learned.

Whether for his family, band mates, friends or fans, Downie has indeed become “involved in a life that passes understanding,” imploring each of us to remember that “our highest business is our daily life.” Thank you John Cage for such inspiring words.