I love visiting cemeteries whenever I have a big life decision to make. I love visiting when I have something I really want to do, a leap I want to take, but I feel scared. When I visit a cemetery during these times, it evokes questions that allow me to reflect on the life I am creating. For example, last summer, before I taught my first class at Emerson, I biked by a cemetery in Cambridge. I felt nervous about teaching and my fear had started me thinking I might not even want to take that risk. Was it worth feeling anxious, inadequate, and confronting my inner critic day after day for the whole semester?
When I biked by the cemetery, a voice inside of me said "I have to teach this class. I MUST."
See, taking a moment to be cognizant of the fact that someday, you will die, helps to throw your life into sharp relief. It helps to put things in perspective. When I imagine being on my deathbed or think about my name on a headstone, I think: When I'm dying, will I wish I had taken the risk of teaching (or performing or writing or loving or getting on that freaking airplane, etc., etc.)? Even if it involves hard work and anxiety and sweat and doubt and people telling me I'm no good at it, will I wish I had done it?
For me, teaching was one of those things that evoked this answer. And this summer, when passed by this cemetery during the 5K race, I asked myself these questions about the short film I am writing. When I'm dying someday, will I wish I had made this movie?
Try it out. Sometimes you will get this YES and other times, you'll get a NO. Which is just as helpful as the YES, because unless we say NO to things that we don't feel strongly about, we won't ever have the energy and heart and time to say YES to the things that really get us excited.
It's often hard to do this exercise in a cemetery where people you love rest, so try going to a cemetery in a different neighborhood, or in a different state. Try visiting a cemetery where one of the authors or actors or musicians or artists you admire is buried. I love visiting Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA where Louisa May Alcott is buried. It's a special experience that makes you realize that no matter what we spend on time here doing, we're all going to die someday, so it's critical that we do things that matter to us. When you doubt yourself, it's powerful to realize that even the "genius" that you admire and are convinced you could never compare to, had one chance at mortal life, just like you do now. There's no more excuses in the face of death.
I'm going to die. So are you. But if you are reading this right now, you are alive and can ask yourself a question.
"If I died today, what do I wish I would have done?"
Since you are alive, you can take a teeny tiny step towards that thing you see in your mind's eye and keep taking steps towards it as if your life depends on it. Because it actually does.
No one is getting out of this world alive.
Time is finite and is ticking away as I type this and as you read it.
Best to make sure that when we do make our exit from this world, it's with the peace of knowing we were true to ourselves and with the ecstasy of having spent our souls on something that set them on fire.