Write the Last Chapter First
Hello and welcome to Friday, January 7, 2022. I hope that your New Year is off to a meaningful start.
People often speak about their lives in terms of chapters. For myself, my high school years could be one chapter, my career as a nurse another, my role as a father and husband could have multiple chapters, and though it is ongoing, my recovery from addiction could also be a chapter.
I recently got to thinking about how useful it might be to write the last chapter of my life now, from where I am today. Before we add more content to the current chapter, I’m thinking that writing our last chapter first could provide us with clear direction on how we want to live in the interim, between this moment and our final moment. That way, if we stray too far from the narrative of the final chapter, we’ll know to get back on course, so that the lived ending doesn’t come as a big surprise or a bitter disappointment.
Because we can’t foresee the future, it may be wise to leave spaces in our last chapter so that we can fill in the specifics. The setting, plot, and cast of characters can be penciled in lightly. After all, if someone had told me twenty years ago that I would succumb to an opioid addiction, lose my career as a nurse, get a divorce, and go through bankruptcy, I would have said, “No way, you’re reading the wrong book!” If I was told ten years ago that I’d now be living in the Pacific Northwest, twelve hundred miles away from my family in Colorado, earn a master’s degree in environmental ethics, work as a life-coach, mindfulness instructor, and drive school buses, I would have said, “You don’t know me very well!” Yet here I am.
If we can’t know the specific details of the future, then how can we possibly know what to write in our last chapter? Well, while the details are significant—where we live, the people by our side, the things we have accomplished—they’re not nearly as important as how we live our life and the qualities and values we embody as we do so. This is the content of our last chapter that would be most useful to write beforehand.
In my last chapter, I would like to read that I had been kind, that I brought joy to people, that I was of maximum service not only to humanity, but also to all the inhabitants of our delightful, precious world, that the choices I made reduced suffering through thoughtful acts of compassion, that I lived with gratitude, free of desire for things that I didn’t need, that my relationships were solid, honest, and free from resentment, that I truly enjoyed the moments of my life, that I accepted inevitable difficulties and the impermanence of all things with grace, that I loved unconditionally, that I came to appreciate my imperfect nature, and that I did everything I could do to create the best version of myself.
Knowing beforehand that this is the kind of person I want to be in the final chapter of my life provides me with guidance and trajectory as the moments of each day unfold. If I stray from the character I want to be in my last chapter, then I’ll have two choices: I’ll either need to get myself back into character, or I’ll have to revise my last chapter, possibly not including all the qualities and attributes that are truly important to me. Do I want to compromise? I think not.
Also, without being morbid, we must keep in mind that our last chapter may not be as far into the future as we think. I must admit that, when thinking about my inevitable death, I tend to envision myself as an old, old man in amorphous but pleasant surroundings. The fact is, some of us may be living our last chapter, now. The epilogue of our life could start tomorrow or later this afternoon. We just don’t know.
But if you are reading this, it’s not too late.
In each new moment we can amend our behavior in a way that allows us to embody the person we want be when the last page is turned, we can identify and implement the values we cherish most, we can clean up our side of any relationships that need repair, we can do our best to align our actions today with the imagined content of our last chapter, we can develop our character so that, in the end, we may turn out to be the hero of our very own lives.
As always, if you are ready, I am here to help.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
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