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Patricia Aranka Smith Headshot

In the Matter of Life Versus Death

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One of my favorite cocktail/dinner party questions to ask a group of relative strangers is, "Regardless of whether or not you believe in or plan to have one, if you HAD to have a tombstone and were responsible for writing your own, what would yours say?"

There's nothing like a pregnant pause with an awkward silence chaser to light up a room of people who are most comfortable identifying themselves by their job titles, street addresses, net worth or (worse yet) the car they drive. That's a whole other subject for a different time.

The reason I ask questions like the one above must be because somewhere inside of me there is a lawyer just dying to get out and address the jury. Don't judge me. Unfortunately, she's competing for her share of my already limited time and space with the highest unpaid therapist, artist, writer and life coach that also reside inside my soul. Either way, the questions I pose (and I ask many) always all go to intent.

Few people want to go down this road with no return ticket even though we are all eventually going to arrive at the dead-end. I have one friend who cannot (for the life of him!) bring himself to utter the words, "One day, I will die." It's as if by saying so, it might be true. Duh. Present me with one person who has gotten out of this gig called life alive, and I'll stop asking questions we should be thinking about and considering more often than not. 'Nuff said.

It's not that I have a death wish. Quite the contrary. I have a life wish and I really wish more people would embrace that concept instead of dwelling on what might eventually kill them. We're all going to die of something. If only death certificates could be as vague as some people and read: "Cause of Death: Something," instead of "heart failure" which, if you think about it seems to me what ends it for most everyone. When the ticker stops, it's over.

I have more friends than one could possibly want or need (and are sometimes a handful to manage). My parties look more like a casting call for a sitcom or some bizarre social experiment than they do a gathering of like-minded individuals. I'm Oprah without the empire and the Maude to a lot of Harolds. If you don't get this reference, you are way too young and I'm too (insert one) old, tired or busy to explain it.

I am many things to many people and sometimes I wonder if life isn't one big science project for which I have been designated the Bunsen burner. I make things happen. People ignite. Maybe we all need to lighten up a little when it comes to living our lives instead of lamenting the fact that it will one day come to an end. It will. Trust me.

Which leads me back to my original question. While we are so busy "living" our lives replete with the busyness that each entails, how much of it are we actually enjoying? Is all this amassing and acquiring what it's cracked up to be? In the end, don't most of us end up in some way, shape or form being a set of boxes that get donated to (insert charity of your choice here) and the items within them priced with a black Sharpie marker? That's the truth of the matter; unless you happen to be part of the small percentage of the population who could afford to collect valuable artwork or furniture that somebody else is willing to pay a hefty price for at auction.

I'd much rather my tombstone read, "She left no stone unturned until she got this one" than "Her Louis XV bedroom set sold for $2.7 million at Bonhams."

But that's just me. I'm not a fan of Louis anything furniture. In the matter of life versus death, it's all a bunch of stuff that your family will fight over or someone will want to buy at a discounted price when you are no longer around to dictate its value, real or perceived. My life is worth far more than that.

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