There is but one certainty in life and it’s that we will die. The life that we live on this earth is a story that has a beginning and an end. Absent committing suicide, we have no more control over when the end comes than when the beginning came. There’s an interesting little exchange in The Dark Knight where the Joker taunts a police chief about killing his officers:
“You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?”
Now, I know that this is fiction, but there’s so much truth to that statement. Our reaction to impending death reveals so much about us. Because it’s for all the marbles, we can’t fake it. At that moment, you’re either content with who you are or you’re not. And that’s the question we all have to answer for ourselves.
Being Content at Death Requires a Life of Purpose
In order to be content with who we are when we approach death, we have to have lived a life of purpose. We need to have pursued a mission – not just any mission, but one that we were created for. Otherwise, we will have a tinge of regret. We need not have lived perfectly – we will all make significant mistakes along the way. And it’s not to say that the mission was, in all aspects, completed, as we will always want more. And it’s not required that we understood the mission and pursued it for our entire lives. Sometimes, you don’t understand completely what you’ve been working toward until later in life. Others realize that they’ve been pursuing the wrong things and change course to get on the right track. It happens differently for everyone. But, at the end, the goal is to face death bravely, knowing in your heart that you’ve lived an honorable life in pursuit of your mission.
Tecumseh’s View on Death
Here’s some inspiration from Tecumseh (hat tip to Rorke Denver):
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
That’s our goal, to live our lives in such a way that the fear of death can never enter our hearts, so that we won’t face our last moments with deep regret, knowing that we wasted our one life on things that didn’t matter and are not lasting: comfort, pleasure, entertainment. Sure, at that moment, we will all want more time; more time with our wives and friends, more time to watch our kids grow, more time to pursue our mission. But we will be content with what we’ve done, content that our life has and will continue to inspire others, and content that we’ve made other people and the world better.
And while I can’t answer which particular mission is yours, we are all called to be good at being men. What that means has been fleshed out on this site in multiple places. Tecumseh’s specific instructions are on point here as well: live with intention. Don’t just float along with the societal currents, content to do what everyone else does. “Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.”
“Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.” As I’ve stated over and over, men need a tribe, a group of people that they belong to. This includes family, but it’s more. It’s also friends with whom you walk closely and the community in which you live. Live your life in a way that serves and makes them better. A life spent on self-consumption and indulgence is not one that allows you to face death with bravery and contentment. Reject it at all costs. You must pursue something larger than yourself.
“Show respect to all people and grovel to none.” As a man, you have a duty to both be strong and to use your strength wisely. Not to bully or harass, but in respect of all people. However, you must carry yourself with dignity and in a way that commands respect, groveling before no man, regardless of position. Give honor to those who earn it, and earn it for yourself.
So many live in fear of death. They can’t stand to think of it, and it troubles them to see people who have died or even to watch someone die in a movie or TV show. Far too often, this is because of a lack of purpose in their own lives. We must all grasp the truth that there are far worse things than death, and living without purpose is primary among them. Such a person has failed in life, though he lives to 100. The person who has embraced his purpose and pursued it dies with honor, whether he be 18 or 80.
That’s the challenge, men: so live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Though you’ll be reluctant to leave behind those you love, if you’ve lived with purpose, you can stand content and ready on the day that death comes.
I’ll end with a toast given by SEAL commanders before heading out on their missions: “to those of us who have been downrange, to us and those like us, damn few.” In this life, there are damn few who are embracing and pursuing their mission. We are of that number and proud to be one of those few. At the same time, we are seeking to increase the ranks of this brotherhood. This is the man’s life.
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