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Brett & Kate McKay | March 20, 2011

A Man's Life, Personal Development

What Man Understands That He Is Dying


Daily? (This Is Your Life)

The largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we
are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.
What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the
worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken
when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed.
Whatever years be behind us are in deaths hands. Seneca

When I was a kid and looked at pictures of my dad like the one above, he seemed so old to me. He
seemed to exist in a place so far distant that it inhabited a completely different universe than mine.
He was assuredly an adult. He had begun life, and he knew it.

A few weeks ago as I was holding Gus, I thought about those old photos, and the thought struck me
like a thunderbolt: This is your life. Im sure this revelation seems quite obvious, what else would it
be? But what I mean is that I realized that my life had come full circle. Those old pictures of my
parents? Now that was me. That time that had seemed so far away had arrived. This was my life.
brett mckay holding son gus mckay art of manliness

Theres nothing like having a kid to make you acutely aware of your own mortality. As Jerry
Seinfeld observed when he had kids, Make no mistake about why these babies are here they are
here to replace us. Its amazing to look at a baby and realize he is a completely new person, a new
person who literally has his whole life ahead of him. This little creature hasnt even gone to
kindergarten yet. And thats when you realize that a third of your life is over, a whole dang third of
it.

I realized I had always expected that at a certain point some signal would be given, some change
would come over me, and then I would know that my real life had started. After all, if people
always ask what you want to be when you grow-up, you figure one day youll simply know youve
grown-up, that youve hit that milestone and are officially an adult, and that all adults get initiated
into this special knowledge. I thought this moment would come when I went off to college or
graduated from it, or when I got married, and surely when I had kids. But that transformative
moment never came. Each day was just like the rest. I had been living my life all along. This was
my life.

The shortness of life, the fact that one must enjoy the journey instead of focusing on a destination,
is surely one of the most popular themes of books, songs, and movies. And so I was almost hesitant
to tread where many have trod before with this article. But the fact of the matter is that all those
calls to seize the day just go in one ear and out the other, they exist as a cloud of white noise until
you have your own, personal this is your life moment. A moment when the brevity of life hits
you like a ton of bricks and knocks the wind out of you. When you finally understand, deep down
in your soul, that the clocks been running since your were born and keeps on ticking away. So
perhaps for some man, somewhere, this post will serve as that wake up call.
Food for Worms

That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once:


how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were
Cains jaw-bone, that did the first murder! It
might be the pate of a politician, which this ass
now oer-reaches; one that would circumvent God,
might it not?

Theres another: why may not that be the skull of a


lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets,
his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?

In Act V, Scene 1, of Shakespeares Hamlet, Hamlet and Horatio converse with a pair of
gravediggers in a cemetery. When Hamlet looks upon the skulls of the dead, he imagines the life
they had once enjoyed in the flesh. This leads him to picture the bones of Alexander the Great and
Julius Caesar, once mighty men, now moldering in the dust like any other mortal. The reality of
death hits Hamlet right in the gut, and he has a this is your life moment.
In looking for old
photographs to use on AoM, Ill often find a picture particularly arresting; the vividness of the
mans life at the time the camera flashed upon it jumps out and holds my gaze. And Ill take a
minute to look at his face, to think about the way his day to day life felt no less real than mine does,
that his present, his world, felt no less important, that his feelings and aspirations felt no less vital.
And how his body is now lying six feet underground somewhere. His life felt just as endless as
ours does and yet he has vanished from the earth. 100 years down the road someone might look at
our face in an old wrinkled photograph and wonder about the life we lived. Hold that image in your
mind for a second

Its a moment captured very well in the famous carpe diem scene in the film, The Dead Poets
Society:
My 10 year high school reunion is coming up this year. I was thinking about this, and thinking
about how astoundingly quickly the 10 years had gone by. And then I thought about how I might
only get 5 more of those ten year periods. I thought about 5 apples lined up on a counter. Not very
many. 5 apples before Im food for worms.

five gala apples on reflective table

No Time Like the Present

Why do we always put off doing what we dream about until some point in the future? Researchers
have found that humans are very bad at predicting resource slack. When asked to guess how
much money and time theyll have in the future, they accurately predict that their financial situation
will remain relatively the same, but they think that their free time will expand. This creates what is
a termed the YesDamn! moment.which happens when you say yes to a commitment thats a
few months away, thinking youll have plenty of time to do it when it finally comes around, only to
realize when it arrives that youre just as busy as you ever were. YesDamn!
This blind spot in our perception is why we confidently tell ourselves that well start that business,
lose the weight, repair our relationship, get organizedin a few weeks or a few months, because
then well have more time. Its an illusion. Its a self-deception that allows us to soothe the pangs
of our unfulfilled desires with the panacea that now is not the right time. The mirage of the time-
filled future can string a man along until hes 80, has one foot in the grave, and realizes that the
expanse of time he imagined would open never appeared.

When I was in a college, I remember a mentor told me that Id never have as much time in my life
as I had right then. I didnt believe him at the time; with a heavy course load and a job I felt
incredibly busy. And then I got married and got a job. And then I had a baby. Looking back I
cannot believe how much time I had back in college. Buckets of time have not opened up as Ive
gotten olderquite the opposite. And Ive come to realize that the time I think I need to accomplish
what I want to do will never magically materialize. Its now or never.

All Aboard!

The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to
live. Reflect, my esteemed Lucilius, what this saying means, and you will see how
revolting is the fickleness of men who lay down every day new foundations of life, and
begin to build up fresh hopes even at the brink of the grave. Look within your own
mind for individual instances; you will think of old men who are preparing themselves
at that very hour for a political career, or for travel, or for business. And what is baser
than getting ready to live when you are already old? -Seneca

We live in a culture that prizes and seeks once-in-a-lifetime moments. But in reality every
moment is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Youll never be 25 years old on March 21, 2011 at 8:00
am ever again. Its a once-in-a-lifetime moment; once its gone, its gone.

Time goes so slowly, we age so slowly that its almost impossible to understand and to realize that
time is a finite commodity. It feels as though we are standing still, when in reality we are all
traveling on a train that is ever hurtling onward. Look out the window: you will never see the
scene you glimpse in that instant ever again; it fades immediately into the distance, gone forever.
Breathe in, breathe out. Life just moved on a bit and youre a little bit older.

It at once becomes starkly clear the great tragedy in always waiting for your life to begin. If you
wait for your life to start, it never will. This is your life, right now. Whether youre in a college
dorm room, or your first apartment, or a brand new house in the burbs. Whether youre single,
dating, or married. This is your life. Whatever it is you want to do, whatever it is you want to
change about yourself, whatever it is you want to see and feel and experience in this lifetime, you
cant put it off until your life begins or it will never happen. Get started now. And start savoring
these every day, once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Last updated: December 16, 2015

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