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What I have (and hope for) has already been lost

Over the weekend my mind landed on Dead Poets Society and before long, it was rolling on my screen. There are so many wonderful moments in the film but two that felt relevant of recent are Robin Williams inviting his students to spend time looking closely at photos of previous students of the school who have now most likely passed away along with his Carpe Diem invocation. He also gives them a book of poetry with the wonderful passage from Thoreau,

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived"

Both of these things are powerful, and a bit ominous of course because they force us to contemplate our mortality. Despite that dark side, they also give us a reminder to take stock in our lives, assess what seems important, at least in this chapter, and focus on those things as much as possible life indeed is short. 

As I reflected on the film afterward I remembered a piece of wisdom a friend recently shared. He told me he had acquired a car again for the first time in eighteen-plus months, after moving to a larger city where it felt much less necessary. However, some harder-to-reach destinations he enjoys compelled him to take the plunge again. He shared that an unexpected stress had emerged from this. Despite loving his girlfriend dearly, she is not in his opinion, the best driver, which left him worried about it getting damaged while she was driving. He said the stress was not benefiting his own mental health as he worked to stay calm in these situations and it certainly was not benefiting his relationship when he micro-managed her driving or responded dramatically to it.

He told me he has been working on cultivating a practice he learned from stoicism that compels one to accept that all the material goods and people in our lives are only temporary. Whatever we have or will come our way we will still ultimately lose. Unlike the quotes above, which while related focus more on making the most of our lives, I see this as a way to accept that all things in our lives will leave us as well. For those who believe in an afterlife, they may make a differing point here, I’ll leave my point solely to the earthly plane we currently inhabit. 

My friend told me he has now been working to think about his car through the lens that “it’s already lost/wrecked”, which has helped him remain calmer about its fate since he cannot control its ultimate destiny. This has served me well in recent week regarding a couple things that at times cause me anxiety and will be interested to see how this mental model serves me over the coming months and years. 

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