Relax, this isn’t my declaration of intent before I go postal and do something loony at work. Actually it’s a quote from the film Zulu (the quintessential Sunday afternoon movie if ever there was one!). It always pops in my head when I think about mortality and our approach to it.
Generally we don’t think about dying. Sure we acknowledge the fact in our own way, but really we kind of pretend that death is something that happens to other people, or that when it happens to us it’ll be some time in the far distant future.
But death can come at any time. It’s trite to say, but it’s true, you could get run over by a bus tomorrow. The psychiatrist RD Lang once said
“Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent.”
To help them understand the impermenance of the human body Buddhist monks will sometimes sit and contemplate a rotting corpse, so that they can come to understand the transitory nature of life. Yet with life able to end so swiftly why do we choose to fill it with such worthless moments.
We go to work and get angry about things that don’t really matter. We spend our lives in misery worrying about things that aren’t necessarily real, or at least no more real than anything else. This is what we choose to do with our time, and we do it without thinking, unless something happens to snap us out of it.
It is a staple of cinema to have the life changing experience. The moment that shakes someone out of their mindless stupor and onto the road of adventure. I’ve mentioned this before when I wrote about the movie Stranger Than Fiction; a guy knows his death is imminent so he asks his best friend “What would you do if you knew you were going to die?” Well that’s just it, you are going to die, we all are, so why don’t we act accordingly?
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try and keep this idea in mind from now on. I always think there’s a tomorrow, that I can do it (whatever ‘it’ is) some time in the future. But this is your starting point, right here, right now. Whatever it is, if it’s worth doing, now is the time to do it!
So don’t waste your time. Make sure you enjoy the life you’ve chosen for yourself, because otherwise what’s the point? For me that means changing my job, doing more interesting things, meeting more nice people, and asking this girl out I fancy because I know I’ll regret it if I don’t.
When I was 24 I had this job managing the runners at a post production house in Soho. I hated it. The boss was, like many bosses, a mean, nasty little man who ran his company through fear and intimidation. I wanted to quit, and do it in a very vocal manner to his face! But everyone advised me to wait, to bide my time, to find another job before I did something like that. Everyone, except for one person.
It was the guy who came to fix the lift. I got on really well with him, we always had nice chats when he came around. One day when he came I was particularly pissed off. He said “Come with me,” and we took the lift up to the top floor where he dropped it down a level, opened the doors, and we climbed on top so that he could inspect the doors from the inside as it went back down again.
Traveling down I told him what was up and he said one of the most memorable things anyone has ever said to me. He said,
“Next time you get angry, and want to quit, do it! Because when you’re old and gray those are the memories that’ll put a smile on your face. And don’t worry about work. You’re a smart lad, you’ll find something. Even if it’s just sweeping the streets for a while.”
I’ll never forget that day. I promised myself that next time I felt like having a go at the boss I would. As it happens one of my many job applications hit not long after that, so I didn’t have to, but just the idea of it, the idea of being able to do that, meant a lot to me.
Y’know, I haven’t thought about that day in a long time. Here’s me going on that you don’t need life changing moments, and yet there I am with one sitting in my back pocket. Maybe it’s time I heeded the advice and made some major changes. What’s the worst that could happen? 😉
And to finish, here’s the scene from Zulu with the quote in it I mentioned above. My apologies for the incorrect aspect ratio. Out of my control I’m afraid.