My morning run today took me along the narrow, twisting road that runs next to The Farmington River. I chose not to run with headphones or music today so I could listen to the river and the birds. The early growth of the trees is neon green right now and everything seems extra alive.
About half a mile from my home I heard a loud crack and jumped to see behind me, assuming (in that pre-thought millisecond) that it was a deer hunter’s shot. 10 or 15 paces behind me a large, dead tree had fallen across the road where I had just been. I’d had no awareness of it moments before, and now it was down.
I snapped a couple of pictures, did my best to drag some of the smaller pieces out of the road (even those were heavy and large), and then continued my run home.
It wasn’t a near death experience in the way I think of it: my life didn’t flash before my eyes, and I had no awareness of any danger until it was in the past, and nothing really happened. But it was a big tree. And it was very close to me.
This experience brought back into the foreground the truth that I will die, and that I don’t get to decide when. I always know this academically, but it takes these kinds of moments for me to really believe it. This is called mortality salience.
Mortality salience is uncomfortable, but it is also motivating. I ran through my mental checklist. If I had died this morning, what would I wish to be in place? Here’s what it was for me:
- Is our estate plan in place and are our wishes for guardianship of our 1-year-old current? Yes and yes. My husband and I agreed on the guardianship succession plan of our children before any were born. Our estate docs do need to be refreshed (it has been more than 5 years), but they would still work.
- Is my life insurance sufficient and current? Yes and yes. (And we have the premiums automatically paid so I don’t have to worry about forgetting to write the check and allowing it to lapse.)
- Could my husband access everything he would need to access in my absence? Yes. We have a shared password keeper so he can access all of my digital assets.
- Are our beneficiary designations current? Not exactly. My husband is primary on all of my retirement accounts and my life insurance policy but our child is not contingent – I haven’t updated this since he was born. Adding this to my to do list!
More importantly though, I reflected on how I am living my life. If that tree had taken me out, would I have any regrets? I am happy to report: I would not. I live a very values-based life. I spend a lot of time with my husband, my child, our families, and our friends. I work in a job that I love, doing work that I am proud of, and within hours that feel in balance right now. I take care of my health and I spend time outside.
When I came home, I snuggled my kiddo a little longer and sipped my coffee a little more appreciatively. That is one of the gifts of mortality salience.
When have you felt mortality salience? Did it motivate you into action? We’d love to hear your story!