Some moments just shake you up and lead you to reflect on the fickleness of life. It was one such moment for me two months back when I received news of the passing away of a dear friend, all of 42 years, of heart attack. He was an ex-colleague, my local train partner, and a close confidant. We had not met since the lockdown started in March 2020, but had planned to do so as things were opening up after the first wave of Covid. But that was not to happen. God had other plans.
If that was not all, I heard the news of another ex-colleague – the one whose place I had filled in my previous job – also in his mid-forties, passing away due to Covid-related complications.
“People are falling like nine-pins,” I said to my wife as we were talking about these two quick tragedies. “Each day seems like a toss of a coin. You’re here this moment and gone the next. And who knows when it’s our turn to go?”
“Doesn’t it all seem worthless?” I asked her expecting that she agrees. She nodded, though I was not sure if that was in agreement or disagreement.
Doctors generally advise people facing terminal illnesses to get their house in order. The tragedies of the last 14+ months – of people known and unknown – have led me to believe that getting your house in order and keeping it that way is not just for the terminally ill anymore, but for everyone who cares for his/her dependents. Because, as we have seen, life is fickle. And all things we take for granted, all our wishes and dreams, and everything we stand for, can be brought to zero in a matter of days.
Buddha supposedly said –
Life is like a magic show, a phantom, like bubbles in a stream — it all happens, and nothing lasts. To crave, to try to hold on, is to live apart from the truth of how things are.
And because life is really like a bubble, and passes in a flash, it is important to remember what Steve Jobs told students in his Stanford commencement speech in 2005 –
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.
One of the big life decisions that we must make ‘before it is late’ is with respect to getting organised with our finances.
That net worth you are trying to compound so that your dependents are financially stable if something happens to you, means nothing if your dependents do not know about it when you are still here.
And what about those multiple mutual fund schemes, insurance policies, and stocks in your multiple demat accounts? Do your dependents know enough about them to act when they need to?
Who are the trusted advisors who are helping you in your financial journey? Do your dependents know about them so that they can connect with them to seek help in time of need?
And where have you kept your important documents – birth certificate, marriage certificate, identity cards, passport, house ownership papers, etc.? Who knows about them?
What about your important passwords – net banking, emails, stock trading accounts, mutual funds? Of course, these must not be shared, but how will your dependents access them when you are no more to share?
And have you made physical copies of all these and other important documents, or are they all on your machine? Are your dependents as ‘tech savvy’ as you are to be able to access them flawlessly?
The list, unlike life, could go on.
“But why go through the trouble today?” the mind confronts, “It won’t happen to me, at least not so soon.”
Well, I wish you (and myself) long and happy life ahead, my dear friend. But here I am reminded of a story, not often told, in the Indian epic Mahabharata where the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, comes upon a lake and finds that his brothers lay dead on its banks. He is thirsty, so before beginning to search for the murderer, he reaches into the lake to drink, not knowing that it was water from the lake that brought his brothers’ end.
At that moment, a Yaksha, the spirit presiding over the lake appears. He warns Yudhishthira not to drink lest he suffers the fate of his brothers. But he also offers an alternative – Yudhishthira can instead answer Yaksha’s 18 questions. One of the questions is, “What is the greatest wonder?”
Yudhishthira replies, “Each day death strikes, but we live as though we were immortal. This is the greatest wonder.”
Remind yourself that you will die one day so that it creates priority and thinking about it should help you live with a more positive perspective. Focus on what is important and what is not. Put things in perspective. Things related to status or self-esteem can become much less important, and you can, for once, focus on what is really a priority – relationships, finding meaning in life, giving back to society … and documenting for the sake of your loved ones.
Now, what are you waiting for? Time is running fast.
A Few Stories You Shouldn’t Miss
- Life is Too Short to Save Everything (Ben Carlson)
- Play Your Own Game (Morgan Housel)
- Good Moods Often Lead to Bad Judgments (Wall Street Journal)
- Danny Kahneman on Behavioral Economics (Barry Ritholtz)
“Let each thing you would do, say or intend be like that of a dying person.”
~ Marcus Aurelius
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
~ Howard Thurman
That’s about it from me for today.
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