What if you knew a particular person was going to die today? It could be a loved one. A work colleague. A fellow you see at church only a few Sunday’s a year. An old girlfriend or boyfriend – your ex? A mortal enemy you have hated for years. A disenfranchised relative. Or even that celebrity you have never met. Would anything change if you knew? Might you have said or done something differently that you had been meaning to do?
Of course, there are times when many of us have experienced this. I have experienced this with the passing of my long estranged father just over a year ago. We figured things out just months before he took ill – that is another story. Watching a loved one – family or dear friend deteriorate and die before our eyes and in our arms is painful but it’s also a gift isn’t it? In that heartbreaking scenario when we know the end is very near and if we want to say last loving words or provide a final human touch before it is too late – we have that ultimate opportunity. It is a blessing to not have heard about their demise from a phone call or heaven forbid a text message.
More often than not we receive this possibly shocking news seemingly out of nowhere. At other times it may have been expected, “but not so soon” and we missed our opportunity. These examples above denote the loving and caring relationships in our life.
But what if we only allowed ourselves to reflect positively of an individual AFTER they pass on yet during their life we felt nothing but animosity towards this person? The real question is not “what if” but why? Why in some cases do we reserve kind words ONLY when the individual is dead? And here in Toronto this was most tangible with the passing a few days ago of our former and infamous mayor Rob Ford. A few months earlier I was walking along the historic “Gingerbread House” lined streets of Rothenburg Germany visiting with my sister and her family when I spotted another family walking towards me. The gentleman was wearing an authentic jersey of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. As he neared me I called out to him, “Are you from Toronto? So am I.” In his substantial German laden accent he replied to me in English, “No, but you have that crazy Bürgermeister don’t you?”
Over the tumultuous three years of Rob Ford’s mayoralty we heard and saw it all. Countless “judges” were collectively shocked, appalled, embarrassed and many directed hideous personal attacks against our mayor. Yet within hours if not minutes upon hearing of his death, some of those same people, in particular his colleagues on council or the reporters and commentators covering his time in office were speaking and writing in glowing terms of Rob Ford the man, the overwhelmingly and distinctively dedicated civic politician with nary a word of the insulting broadsides he received in life. And we know all too well how people don’t like to “speak ill of the dead” but I wonder why is that the case? Are we afraid that in the afterlife the dead can come after us and in some manner cause retribution? Are we infused by guilt for our previous actions towards them? Why do we hold back the civility and humanity while they were alive that despite the opposition or even revulsion we once felt, since the ability and compassion to see the positive in that very same person is clearly evident?
As I often write in this space, our actions are our choice and the responsibility for them is exclusively ours. We are not forced to say this or do that. And if we try hard enough we can find it within us to shed light and not darkness on almost any person – even an adversary. Perhaps the lesson is that by doing so we are actually allowing light into ourselves. Why wait for their last day – or ours?