Mortality: The Ultimate New Year’s Motivator

The most chilling part of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” comes near the end when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come points Ebenezer Scrooge to a tombstone with his own name on it.

It is this final vision that does its job in making Scrooge realize he better change his ways before he dies if he wants his life to have meaning.

The idea of coming to terms with one’s own mortality and using that knowledge as motivation to make the most of each day is powerful.

Scrooge declares that “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  And just as with New Year’s resolutions, people have the best intentions to do good in the world and for themselves but often life’s daily happenings can derail them.

It takes a strong constitution and willpower to keep goals on track.

My life-changing moment wasn’t a ghost but a dead body, when at age 11, I witnessed my grandmother in a coffin. That startling image slapped me in the face with the sinking realization that life does not last forever.

I remember many times afterwards lying in bed struggling to get to sleep thinking about the eventual void in our future.

It accounts for the nervous energy I have and the impatience I display knowing that time is short and why I make lists all the time.  Lists of errands to do each day, and lists of goals to work on each year.

In a way, death drives me to get things accomplished.

Of course, the number of years a person has to live can’t be predicted, though many internet tools claim to guestimate one’s lifespan with a high level of probability.

Based on the Social Security Administration’s Life Expectancy Calculator, I can expect to live another 24 years at my current age.

According to life insurance companies Northwestern Mutual and John Hancock, I have another 32 years.

Death actually gives a projected day of death and graphically places it on a tombstone like the Dickens’ tale.  I have only 13 years left with them.

On there is even a clock that continuously countdowns one’s life.

The iconic images each December 31st of an old man representing the year that is ending and a baby representing the new year to come symbolizes the death and rebirth in all of us.

Each passing year marks a slight death for that is one year that will never come back.

However, with the utterance of “Happy New Year” comes yet another opportunity to reboot, redouble our efforts to be better people.   Even if “life happens,” there is always hope that some of what we set out to do will occur.

If each person does something positive once a day, by next year, that would amount to 365 positive actions.   That is a lot of contributions for one person.

One day a tombstone will have our name on it.   And no matter how much money we have or how healthy our eating and exercise habits are, we will die.

Abraham Lincoln once said that “in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”

Here’s hoping that in 2017 you make the most of what days we have to do good for ourselves and for others.



Do You Know the Year Washington was Born?

Today is the 207th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. If you already knew that, congratulations, you are in a select minority who do.

See, while schools close for two days in February, the reason for these closures remain vague for most.   All it means is a three-day weekend.

If you are as old as I am, you remember schools used to have two holidays in February for the most revered U.S. Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 12, and George Washington, Feb. 22.

It used to make sense. Have a day off to recognize America’s first president and another for the man who held this country together through its only civil war.

What is curious is that schools that close for Lincoln’s birthday do so independently for there is no federal holiday for Honest Abe.

And while a day off in honor of George Washington has been a federal holiday since1885, it has been decades since it was celebrated on his actual birthday.

Signed into law by President Johnson in 1968 but not enacted until 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act mandated that Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day move to Mondays.

Why? To provide Americans additional three-day weekend opportunities to help the economies of the tourism and retail industries.

This meant that the real Armistice Day of Nov. 11 was pushed back to the fourth Monday in October. Due to the outcry of Veterans groups, the day was relocated to its proper month. In recent years, schools have attempted to observe it on the real day unless the 11th comes on a weekend.

Meanwhile, once Washington’s Birthday was altered, the holiday became mistakenly known as Presidents’ Day. The federal government still refers to the third Monday in February as Washington’ Birthday even though on nearly all calendars and advertisements “Presidents’ Day” is used.

I don’t know about you, but should we really honor every past president, even the 32-day tenure of William Henry Harrison?

Even more baffling is that the third Monday in February never falls on Feb. 22. In other words, the U.S. law guarantees that no one will know the year when the father of this country was born.

Look, few of us put forth an effort to recognize the holidays we are given days off from work. How many attend a Martin Luther King parade or visit a veterans cemetery on Memorial Day?

The one constant that unites us on all holidays is the freedom to do whatever we want to do. Stores no longer close on Thanksgiving or Christmas. People can now exercise their normal spending habits any day, go to a movie, eat a meal, buy some clothes.

And in having 24/7 access, we are depriving ourselves of slowing down a few days a year, and honoring people who have sacrificed for our privilege to eat a Big Mac and drink a zebra Frappuccino anytime we desire.

As long as we aren’t the ones flipping the burgers or stirring the drinks, working on holidays has no impact on our lives.

Even Daylight Savings Time was devised so that people would have more light to buy more stuff.   And by the way, how about renaming it Standard Time since we are on non-standard time 66% of the year, from March 12 to Nov. 7 in 2016.

President Obama should issue an executive order moving Washington’s Birthday to the fourth Monday of February; a week later would make no difference in retail sales.

Since Feb. 22 falls on five Mondays over the next 33 years, we can least get it right a few times.

Now, who wants to join me in starting the petition to make this happen? I’ll bring the cherry pie.