This Will Fade!
On learning how to get serious about this whole gratitude thing.
Now that I have a baby, “The Society of Passerbys” has determined I’m no longer creepy and therefore now worthy of spontaneous conversation (Man + baby = less likely to attack?)
It’s actually making me fall back in love with New York City. As I go about my day, I brush up against strangers who I will likely never see again. Doesn’t that deserve a “hello, fellow earth traveler!” or a “Best wishes battling whatever it is you’re battling!?”
There’s no cohort that loves to approach me more than fellow parents. And because we’ve been through the same hazing ritual, they skip the small talk and head right to unsolicited life advice. The younger ones all say something like:
”Enjoy! I miss that age.”
And the parents of grown children all say some version of:
“The days are long, but the years are quick.”
… and for some reason, the way they say this this trite piece of wisdom is really getting to me.
Their voice and face have this remarkable mixture of awe and grief that seems worth paying attention to. Like they can’t believe their kid’s childhood is now a database of like 108 memories. Like they’re trying to communicate from the future:
I’m you in 18 years. Even though this is hard, don’t take any of it for granted.
Before fatherhood, my experience of time felt like drinking out of a big gulp cup with unlimited refills. And now, it feels like I’m drinking out of a sippy cup.
If I’m honest, I want the big gulp back. But it’s gone.
The only healthy choice is to learn how to enjoy the hell out of every damn sippy cup sip.
This feels like learning how to expand the Z access of time. If I only have an hour from 2pm-3pm, how can I make it feel like more than an hour?
How do I remember to appreciate the fleeting and, ya know, experience an appropriately deep amount of gratitude?
I don’t know, man! It’s hard.
My brain doesn’t want to do this on its own. Because it requires dancing with mortality. And our ability to function requires that we are really good at forgetting about D-day.
I have to use my cognitive resources to override that ancient impulse.
From what I can gather from people who have swam in these waters before (Shoutout to my boy Marcus Aurelius!), this requires accountability and rituals.
So here’s what I’ve come up with:
“Memento mori” is a Latin phrase that means “remember you must die”. The phrase is often used as a reminder to honor those who have passed by living life to the fullest. It can also be used to inspire, motivate, and clarify.
The idea of “memento mori” has been central to art, philosophy, literature, and architecture throughout history. For example, Puritan tombstones often display a memento mori.
I’ve known about the concept of Memento Mori for many years, but it always seemed like an interesting bummer? Something dark people (Who are not me) gravitate towards?
My wife and I download WeCroak a few years ago which sends you notifications all day long reminding you in creative ways that you’re going to die. It got to be so frequent that it became annoying. (“I get it! But this client might actually kill me if I don’t get this script in by 5pm!”) WeCroak died a quick death on my phone. There’s a middle ground to find.
I was in Santa Fe recently and an artist was set up at a farmer’s market and this little statue rattled my bones.
It was kiln-cast in fire for several days by a rotating series of artists in the mountains of Washington. I don’t usually buy things like this, but I decided to bring it home and put it on my desk. Whenever I feel bored or depressed, I give it a good look.
I added glitter and stardust to the insides because I won too many participation awards as a kid. Also, I choose to believe that there’s something beyond that final layer of bone. If I’m going to think about my death, I might as well also think about how I want to live.
(A Memento More-y?)
One of the things I love more than anything else is sharing a meal or a beverage with a fellow traveler. For me, food is love, and at the end of the day, what is there besides delighting in delicacies with people who bring you joy?
Inspired by Oliver Burkeman’s 4000 weeks, I started to wonder how many of those I might have left.
If I meet with an average of one friend a week until my eighties, I probably have 2000 more hangs left.
I thought there could be something interesting in forcing myself to commemorate each one of these in some way.
From passing thought to prototype
I started playing around with a design, but I immediately got stuck in a perfectionist loop. I literally wanted to spend too much time making a thing about appreciating the fleeting nature of time.
I made a deal with myself: spend 20 minutes designing something rough and then show it to someone. I printed one out on computer paper and gave it to my friend
I’ve never been a letter guy, because it’s too much work. Now, I have a madlib.
It’s giving me the opportunity to see every meal as special and permission to say the things I want to say in case it’s the last one. Writing them is the first gift, seeing people receive them is a second one.
The singular receiving card #5
Or maybe … an umbrella?
I’m calling this project “This Will Fade.” which originally was a joke idea I had for a tattoo. I love finding new destinations for old nuggets. I could see this becoming an umbrella for projects that help people remember what an extraordinary fleeting gift this all is.
Now, who wants to grab a beverage? I’ve got 1990 glorious slots left.
P.S. - If you’re looking for more, I recommend Hidden Brain’s Series on The Science of Savoring.