This is always powerful to me. Terminally ill folks become acutely aware of their own mortality. Actually, we are all terminally ill. Some are just moving to the end a little quicker than others. But, we behave as if we have unlimited time.
I fight the urge to take life for granted every day.
When I have a spat with my gf, I take about a 1 min cool off and then go back and hold her while she fumes. When I am too angry to stop and go through my whole process of choice and forgiveness, I simply remind myself that I am wasting a part of my one and only precious life being bitter and/or nasty. If I feel love and compassion, it really doesn't matter who is able to show it back to me. It's my life and worrying about people being angry at me is only as useful how I put my own personal put a value on it. The emotinal side of morality is already a powerful tool in forgiveness.
I like your focus on forgiveness. Mine is close to that.
When I dig deep into my own mortality, I come up with acceptance and appreciation. I think the dichotomous idea that "life should be good" or "life should be happy" is kind of insane. Life demonstrates it's nature to me every second of every day. Life is good... and horrible, and happy, and gut wrenching, and elated, and scary, and peaceful, and disturbing. Life is exactly what it is and what it is supposed to be. The full range of experience is what makes life wonderful to me. I may not "like" being sad, but I can still appreciate the experience and accept sadness as one element of "what I get" in my time limited human existence.
When I'm at the carnival. I go the the House of Horrors to get scared. I go to the burlesque show to get aroused. I go to the roller coaster to get thrilled. I go the the house of mirrors to get confused. I appreciate each experience for what it is. .. My life will include the full range of human experience. I don't have to enjoy it all, but at least I can appreciate the trip!
When I had my heart attack I became acutely aware of the facade we've erected around our lives and the lives of others. It is not something I think is innate, as other generations certainly had to make due and address the issue of death in much starker and direct terms than most of us will or do.
I do think we are the worse off for not having encountered death and dying more directly. We've lost all focus, with some people taking the willful stance they will not die. And, also at an extreme, an action such as the WTC, where 4,000 people died, takes on horrendous significance and an impact that far exceeds the event. Take for example WW I, where 1 person died for every minute the war was fought.
It is hard to accurately describe what it is like, to be truly aware, other than to say those who are terminally ill (I count myself in that group) and those who have come close to death through an uncontrollable event, live in another world entirely and have to fight to see the world they have left behind.
In any event, most of us will die a painful death and along with it the ephemeral idea that death is something others do, won't happen now, and can be staved off if we buy the right skin cream.
I've been pretty hard on my body throughout my adult life. I just had my 56th birthday and had occasion to contemplate my mortality. My guess is that living to a ripe old age is probably not in the cards for me. I wondered how old my kids (step-kids, actually) would be when I die. I love those kids and their mother dearly. They mean more to me than anything.
I've tried, several times, to continue writing from this point forward. But I've deleted every effort. I find I can't be honest about the insights I imagine I'll have in my last week. They all seem cliche or insincere to me.
I've always believed that the purpose of life is depth of experience. It's not about thrills . . . it's about learning. This didn't stop me from seeking the thrills but, hey, you can't spend ALL your time learning, can you? :-)
My personal experience tells me that I was always the most alive when I was desperate: poor, insecure, struggling. The last half of my life was about career and success. I enjoyed the pleasures and comforts of prosperity but, boy, there's nothing like uncertainty to spice up your life.
I retired early, almost 4 years ago, at the age of 52, so that I'd be "young enough to enjoy my retirement". But I'm getting bored. There's no more uncertainty in my life. I've been coasting since my retirement and maybe that's why I feel glib about my mortality. Without risk, without struggle, life is just not as engaging. Unfortunately, that's the future most of us face in old age. By then, we're not physically able to live life on the edge.
So, what would be my insights?
#1 . . . Take care of your health. Floss and visit the dentist at least twice a year.
#2 . . . Commit to your marriage and your children. They will reward you in ways you can't imagine.
#3 . . . Embrace risk. It fires your life and brings relationships alive. It's fun.
#4 . . . Make sure you're right before making any stand.
"Eat well, exercise, moderate drinking... and hope for a good run!"
Yep, the existential thang gets a lot more real in yer 40s. I had a realization the other day that successful aging is directly related to one's ability to cope with loss (friends, loved ones, youth, children, physical abilities, teeth, eyes, hearing, sex, cultural icons).
I was talking to a psychiatrist buddy and made the comment that it amazes me that there some folks who age without having to deal with arthritis. He said, "Yea, those are the folks who aren't riding motorcycles, sledding, flipping off the diving board, and getting into fist fights as they approach 50."