How to live forever

My grandfather died just recently.

It’s okay, really. He was 94 years old. He’d been relatively mobile all of his life, very mobile for all but the last handful of years, chopped wood with an axe into his seventies, kept his mind, and kept his hair. He and my grandmother lived in their own house, and only now is she thinking (quite voluntarily) of moving somewhere a bit more controlled.

They were married for seventy years. Seventy years.

She’s doing fine, even now. There’s sadness, of course, but it’s tempered by inevitability. Even he was tired of being here. For a decade, although he was happy and kept a great sense of humor, he’d been wondering why his time wasn’t up yet. The mind kept on, he said, but the body betrayed him. It was a bummer.

He didn’t suffer at the end. One day I heard that he was having some problems, and before I could get it together to get down there, he was gone. It was fast. It was inevitable. We all have to die, and as far as deaths go, I’d take it.

He lived 94 years and then he died. We focus on the death, but ultimately his death isn’t what matters… because when he was alive, he actually lived.

He left behind a wealth of stories. Many are war stories. He repaired the exterior hulls of ships, from the outside, while those ships were still taking fire. He travelled the world. He saw the Enola Gay take off, though he didn’t know which plane it was at the time.

Some of these stories I knew, and some I’m only just now learning.

If my grandfather were watching now, he could point to those stories, to the people in those stories, and to those events he participated in and shaped, and he could say, “Look: I was here.”

Can you?

Dust in the wind, dude.

Kansas sang that all we are is dust in the wind. And that’s what it can feel like.

You are this person, you have this body, you have this identity, you do this job. You live in this house, you have this family, you file this tax return, you pursue these hobbies. On a population map, you’re a tiny dot. On a bigger population map, you’re lumped in with millions of others, just a millionth of a tiny dot.

Advertisements target “people like you.” You’re educated according to a system and you pursue a vocation according to your abilities. You receive payment for what you do, in an amount that is more or less than the other people around you — who, though they may do different tasks, are all pushing the same basic wheel. You are told that you must earn so that you can spend, and you must spend so that you can have some small thing to do that you enjoy. You are told that you can do that thing you enjoy for a while, but then you need to go back and earn so that you can spend. So that you can do that thing you enjoy.

It’s easy to feel like a mouse in a maze, only ever able to see the next turn.

Today is Thursday. Tomorrow is Friday. Even when you complete a week, it just starts again. You complete a year and it starts over. You do a job and the next day, it needs doing again. You get your hair cut, pay your taxes, mow the lawn, and buy groceries. But then, before you know it, you’ve got to do it all again. Nothing gets finished. The only thing you can put your finger on is that one day follows the next follows the next. Your job is to keep turning the pages.

It’s easy to feel like dust in the wind, like we’re here to go from one place to another and pull levers and push buttons.

It’s easy to feel like the purpose of life is to get to the end of it. To have “completed one existence.”

But you are not dust in the wind.

You are not your body or where you live or who you know, or even who you are.

You are what you choose to be. You are who you influence — how you make tiny, tiny parts of the world different, and better. Meaning is not defined by being. It is defined by doing.

If you do nothing, you are nothing. If someone could pluck you from existence and nothing would change, you’ve failed.

You are the sum total of your actions, words, and deeds.

You are the turbulence you leave behind you in the stream of time.

You are immortal

… if you want to be.

I just finished Stephen King’s book 11/22/63. It’s about a man who goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. In stories like that, someone always brings up the butterfly effect, so-called because supposedly a butterfly flapping its wings can subtly influence air and weather, eventually accumulating in a hurricane halfway around the globe.

In time-travel stories, the butterfly effect says that tiny changes in the past might cause big changes in the future. Like how stepping on a bug in prehistoric times might cause Ned Flanders to become the unquestioned lord and master of the universe in the present day.

But it’s true, the butterfly effect. It’s true in simple human relationships. My mother and father shaped who I became, who I’m still becoming. They guided my morals and my attitude… but they wouldn’t be who they are if not for their parents, and their parents wouldn’t be who they are if not for their own. And that doesn’t even take into account the many of you I’ve met who’ve influenced me. And your parents. And their parents.

My wife and I met by the chancest of encounters. One minute of difference in our respective timelines and we wouldn’t have met. My kids wouldn’t be here. Whoever they go on to become wouldn’t exist. Whoever they will eventually influence wouldn’t be influenced. Whoever those people influence wouldn’t be influenced.

Remove one person from your distant past and your present would be dramatically different. Some people’s absence would matter more than others. 11/22/63 tackles one of the biggest in the past century, but from the other side. What if JFK hadn’t been removed from history’s equation? How might the present be different?

What about you?

If you had been removed from history’s equation, how different would the lives of those around you be?

If the answer is “not that much,” then you’re doing it wrong.

Time ticks on, and you’re only here for a blink. In one sense, you can’t make a difference. But in another sense, you can make a huge difference… as long as you don’t worry about having a direct line of sight, about saying that YOU, specifically, caused THIS. If you influence who you can, you’ll never know what that might mean in a thousand years, if you have a little bit of faith.

We can’t live forever. Our memories can’t live forever. The memories of those who remember our memories can’t even live forever. You’re kidding yourself if you think that history will remember you — specifically YOU — in a million years.

But that’s very, very different from saying that you aren’t shaping the future.

You influence people who influence people who influence people, and people you’ll never know will be different because, ultimately, you were here.

You can live forever in aggregate — in small things that feed into anonymity and chaos — because of the butterfly effect.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it

You know what death is? It’s a deadline.

No pun intended.

You’ve been given an assignment. Your assignment is to make as much positive turbulence in life and in time as you can before your clock runs out. Death is your timer buzzing, the boss asking for the completed assignment on his desk. Without the deadline, you’d never get the job done. Death caps our lives. It makes our lives complete.

There’s a quote, from Herodotus, that says, “Call no man happy until he is dead.” It means that the happiness of a person’s life can only be judged, fully and completely, when it’s over. Until then, the clock is still running and everything is still up in the air. The end of a life freezes it, allows it to be tallied and weighed. It’s like Schrôdinger’s Cat. Until the experiment ends, the cat is nothing.

Think about this, because it’s important. The fact that our lives end is exactly the thing that makes them relevant. Who wins a hockey game that isn’t being timed? Nobody, that’s who. It’s only the end of the game that gives it any meaning.

Think about it.

The worst thing you can do on a deadline assignment is to forget that there’s a deadline — to act as if the assignment will last forever.

We don’t play hard (and we don’t play for keeps) when there’s all the time in the world. Just think how much harder those contestants on Supermarket Sweep shop than you do. Slacker.

The second worst thing you can do on a deadline assignment is to act as if the deadline is the end.

If you start to believe that, then all assignments, everywhere, become meaningless.

Say you want to raise a million dollars for charity by the end of the month. The end of the month arrives, and you’ve raised the million dollars, and then you get pissed off because it’s over.

Nobody mourns the end of a project. The project was a vehicle. It’s the beginning of something, not the end.

The results achieved during the duration of the project are what matters. The million dollars that were raised is what then goes on and does more good even though the project has ended and the fundraising committee has gone home.

During your assignment in life, you’re going to achieve some results and some outcomes. You’re going to impact some people. Stir some shit up.

And when you’re gone, those results and outcomes will only be beginning to twist and distort the timelines that flow out behind you.

You — from your birth all the way through your death — are merely the start of something much bigger.

What does your life mean?

The strongest moment at my grandfather’s memorial service was when they played the Navy theme. The second strongest was when my grandmother was given a flag, folded into its distinctive triangular shape.

Those things are symbols of something greater. Something more. Those moments were strong because they weren’t about my grandfather. They were about something bigger, something he was a part of. They were about nobility and sacrifice. Unity. Honor. One symbol with a thousand meanings to a thousand people.

If you want to feel some very serious emotion, go to a policeman’s funeral. Go to a fireman’s funeral. Go to a military funeral, especially one with a rifle salute.

Why are those funerals disproportionately moving? They were people. They probably had families. Likewise, the Office Drone in the funeral parlor across the street was a person. He had a family. The families of both will mourn, but people who never knew the deceased will cry at a fireman’s funeral because of the meaning they attach to a procession of fire vehicles, to men in dress uniform saluting a hearse as it passes.

A person who doesn’t shiver during a rifle salute or when Taps is played at a military funeral isn’t human. There’s something about the symbols of tribute to those who sacrificed of themselves for others. You don’t feel your emotions stir just for the dead. You feel them stir for the living. You look around and see men and women at salute, saying, This is what your actions mean to me.

When my other grandmother died, the hardest moment wasn’t during the funeral. It was when my grandfather, who’d held it together quite well, struck his fist twice on the casket at the graveside ceremony before we all walked away. It was an affectionate gesture like a chuck on the arm or on the chin, that said, You take care, now.

At the end of a full, well-lived life, if you’re moved by someone’s death, it’s not usually because you regret the absence of another person’s physical presence. It’s usually because you attach meaning to what that person did, and what they left behind. The strongest emotions aren’t usually for the dead, but for those who live on. You don’t mourn just the departed. You mourn the connection between the departed and those who remain.

Usually, what moves you is looking back on what that person did in the past, what you associate with them, and whatever memories you have. But the good news is that that part of them isn’t going anywhere.

If your grandmother was a great influence for you when you were growing up, that influence is still there. You still are who you are.

If a man gave millions to charity and helped feed starving children, those millions are still given. Those children were still fed.

When someone dies, you can’t forget what they did and what they meant. To do so — to focus on death instead of on life and meaning and difference and impact — is to negate what they were here for.

Want to honor the departed? Then celebrate their lives.

My rad funeral

I’m 36. With any luck, I’ve still got a lot of time on the clock. But in the interest of getting my wishes out there in fixed and tangible form so that those of you who know me can enforce my will when the time comes, here’s how I want to be sent off.

I want to be cremated, and I’d like my ashes spread somewhere I loved, with said location to be decided at a future date or by my heirs. Because people like trinkets, I guess it’s okay with me if select people want to keep some of the ashes. What do I care? It’s just burnt wood and carbon.

I don’t want a viewing. Because the memories and impressions I leave behind are my legacy, I don’t want anyone’s last memory of me to be me lying in a box. Most people will look at a body at a funeral and say, “That’s not the same person,” and I tend to agree. I am not my body. Don’t mourn my body. Don’t dress and parade my body. I am my deeds. I am my actions. Address those, not the husk.

It’s cool with me if there’s a service, but let’s keep the sadness to a minimum and let’s not try to see how bummed out we can make everyone, okay?

A family friend had what I hear was the mother of all cool funerals. He died in his seventies and was a super-fun, super-funny guy. His funeral reflected that. Family and friends told their hilarious Vince stories, salted with the bad Vince jokes he used to tell. He was part of a band (I believe it was some sort of Dixieland affair) and they played at the gathering. There were many shenanigans. There was some sadness and there were some tears, but by and large the service reflected him and his legacy. The focus was on his life, not his death. And his life was awesome — his deeds and influence and stories still very much alive.

At my gathering (I hesitate to call it a “funeral”) you’re allowed to be sad if you’re so moved, but let’s keep things in perspective. Was my life a net positive? I sure hope and think so. So let’s focus on that.

There’s enough crap in the world to feel bad about is it is. Let’s not spend too much time bummed out by an assignment successfully completed and a deadline successfully met.

The universe gives a flying fuck about you

The most popular post on this blog is The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You. It’s a good post, but I’d like to explain its meaning a bit more, for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

The point of the “Universe” post is to show you how big the universe is and how little you are in the big picture. It’s not meant to be a punch in the face — just a reality check to make you stop worrying so damn much about how your every little action is going to cause widespread ruin. It’s a “get over yourself and get off your ass post,” plain and simple.

(Side note: Someone left me an Amazon review saying they liked that post a lot, but that they were downgrading their ranking because it made them feel small. To me, that’s like downgrading your ranking of an otherwise fantastic horror novel because it scared you.)

Every once in a while, someone will challenge me on the message behind that post. They’ll say that the universe does care, that we do matter, and that it’s not all for nothing. And I’ll agree. On the surface, that post is way too nihilistic for me… and if you read the whole thing, with all the subtext, I think you’ll see that.

My point wasn’t that what you do doesn’t matter, or that you’re worthless.

My point was that if you ever want to live the time you have to live, you need to get over yourself. All eyes are not on you. Nobody will care if you try something and fail.

You know that Adam Sandler thing, “They’re all going to laugh at you?”

Nobody’s going to laugh. Nobody gives a shit.

The point of that post was that since the Great Intelligence isn’t watching your every move and waiting for you to screw up so that it can mock you, you might as well stop asking for permission to do that thing you want to do. You might as well stop living in fear. You only get so long to live, and you are very small, so do it up. Live, already.

This is very different from saying that you do not matter.

You do matter. If you choose to matter.

If you choose to matter, if you choose to stand up for what you believe in and do what you want to and should do, if you choose to not just rumble through life but to actually live it, then people will come to your funeral and they’ll cry, but they won’t be crying because you’re gone. They’ll be crying because of what you did while you were still here.

If you create turbulence, you’ll have imparted change in the lives of others.

If you’ve influenced people, they’ll influence others, and you’ll live forever in the butterfly effect.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but one day, you are going to die.

The question is, how do you want to be remembered?


  1. Dr. Pete says:

    Your post reminded me of a scene from Fahrenheit 451 that has really stuck with me:

    “When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world, and he helped clean up the slum in our town; and he made toys for us and he did a million things in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them just the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man.”

    • Johnny says:

      How apt! I haven’t read that in forever. Might not ever have actually read it. But that’s good.

  2. Paul Denni says:

    This is some good shit Johnny. I’m glad you used your grandfather’s death to propel you to write something meaningful and useful to others: the butterfly effect again in action. Thanks for reminding me I shouldn’t fear death; I should accept it, and live the best life I can live.

  3. Thor says:

    Epic. Thank you my friend. Thor

  4. Johnny says:

    Thank you, folks.

  5. Jess Commins says:

    Well done, man… Seriously. This may be one of your best yet.

    Also, I’m now including a note in my will that you be contacted to assist with any post-mortem events associated with my passing. Hopefully you can make the party budget stretch into at least a few rounds of free bowling for everyone who wants to come… And if not, please at least make sure they don’t cheap out on the kazoos. 😉

    • Johnny says:

      I may need a PM to help with that. Please leave a detailed, color-coded spreadsheet complete with due dates and vendor’s phone numbers.

  6. Joe says:

    Very well written, Johnny B. And poignant.

    My grandma left much the same way at the same age.

    Yes, as you say in your closing statements, we “are going to die”. But the question pertinent to me is not how I’ll be remembered, but..


    And, actually, I’m working on it. Seriously. Have the research, doing the work, will start writing about it.

    Like Ray Kurzweil says, build the bridge that can bring you to the time when the technology is available.

    That’s a big focus of mine. But then, I’m 20 years older than you. I’m motivated.



  7. Chris Lappin says:

    I don’t normally have the time or attention span to read posts this long but I was glued to this. Everything went quiet around me as I was compelled to read. I was moved to hear about your Grandfather & was moved to think about my contribution.
    My Dad was in WW2 & was involved in Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. I only heard about this when I was in my late 20s. He was a proud, gentle & simple man who wasn’t interested in plaudits.
    At his funeral the church was packed, standing room only. He made a difference at every point in is life. Surely that’s what life is about.
    Thanks for this.

  8. Maxwell Ivey says:

    Hi Johnny; This is the first post of yours I’ve been fortunate enough to read. You did an excellent job of explaining it and reminded me of some of my favorite things about my father, my grandmother, and a member of the scout troop i was in. I’ll be doing my best to hold up my end of the butterfly effect. take care, max

  9. Johnny,

    Many years ago I read a line, the source of which escapes me now, such are the effects of aging. I said our mission in life is to leave our little corner of the world better than we found it. That’s it, in a nutshell, whether it’s changing a diaper at 2AM or volunteering for a grand cause, it’s all that important, and so are we.

    • Johnny says:

      Yeah, I agree, but my point in this one is that idea extrapolated out through time. The “corner of the world” idea is cool, but it’s also quite local. In 100 years, it’d be washed away by time. This extends, and propagates forever.

  10. wyatt says:

    Measurement of a life lived is tough for when you say that a person is only what they do, doesn’t that make us all drive to do instead of be? It can be the same to just be with no need to prove anything or do anything. In this way it is ok to do nothing. The authentic connections to other people, to just help make sense of it all may just come in random conversations. There is no need to do anything but maybe hold someone’s hand at the right time. It is great using the idea of an assignment but the clock is irrelevant, we don’t need to do the most we can, we just need to be while we are here. There is no race to get as much out of life as possible, only to appreciate each moment as a gift. You seem to be saying the same thing yet with an emphasis on doing as much as possible. Reading about the salute brought my hair up and I felt the chill of moments like that, they do resonate. Yet the man who sweeps the walk with a silent life and who dies alone in an unmarked grave, isn’t that ok? I agree with a lot of what you say but there is a place for each and less of a race against the clock, more of acceptance for the asshole who took your parking spot, for the dick head who almost ran you off the road. We all have our moments but it is more than enough to just be human and not always try to be super human.

    • Johnny says:

      This is a common reaction to the kinds of things I write about, and it’s a tough question. I have two answers.

      The first answer is that we don’t need to take “doing” too literally. I had a line in one of my drafts that I’m just now realizing I must have edited out, about how being a good mother, saying kind words, and treating people well are all worthy, positive, life-influencing things. The “doings” don’t need to be big, huge, epic things… which is actually the kind of thing I’ve written about before in other posts. This one is more subtle.

      I’d argue that even the quiet man is influencing people, being nice, doing well, and so on. Where you say “being,” I think I’d allow it as “doing.” We may be talking semantics. Where “being” falls short IMO is when you can say, “I wanted to do something here, but I didn’t.” That feeling of regret. That’s where “being” falls down. Is it enough to BE nice if you never ACT nice? It’s the acting that makes you nice. You can’t BE nice if you never act that way. It’s the chicken and the egg.

      The second answer is more straightforward. Julien Smith also writes and speaks about doing big, epic things, and I once saw someone ask him, “Is it always ‘go big or go home?'” And I really liked his response. It was, “Yes, but sometimes it’s okay to go home.”

      • wyatt says:

        Nice, thank you for that edited piece and the rest of the response. I will have to remember that Julien Smith quote. Cheers.

  11. Thank you for this excellent post, Johnny.

  12. You know, “Create turbulence” isn’t such a bad motto for life. 🙂

    Thanks for another awesome and thought-provoking post, Johnny. And one of the things that intrigues me most is the concept that you can make a significant difference and not know it.

    A chance comment that sticks in someone’s head for decades…a smile or a kind word at the exact moment someone happens to need their faith in humanity restored…making a statement that’s obvious to you but which completely blows someone else away…we have no idea how many ways we impact each other without even being aware.

    So if we deliberately TRY to matter…think of the impact we can have then!

    • Johnny says:

      I have many of those. There are small, throwaway exchanges that have made a big impact on me that the person who said them probably never even thought twice of. That’s what’s so cool.

      • Lynn Hess says:

        I agree, that is really cool….and I also think it helps tie together some of the paradoxes in the exchange between you and Wyatt above, Johnny.

        Because if we work on being the “best” people we can be (whatever that means to us), take the time and thought to identify our values, and think and act mindfully to try to live them out with integrity, then who we are BEING is inextricably expressed through what we are DOING. As long as we’re alive and on this planet, we’re always doing something. If we’re doing it from the kind of being we want to be, then it almost doesn’t matter what the doing is — because of just the kind of thing you mention above, the offhand comments and throwaway moments. If we’re carrying authentic truth and love and whatever else we deem important and valuable and worthy wherever we go, then it doesn’t matter if we’re doing it as a street-sweeping loner, circus clown, blogger, or whatever. It’s the choosing of what we’ve deemed worthy of BEING that is our legacy, because that’s what we live out, and our mark on the world.

        At least that’s the way I see it. I could be totally wrong. But since I have no idea what I’m doing half the time, I like the idea that I can try my best to be what I value and know that whatever doing comes from that will be worthy of my time here and create the kind of turbulence I want to leave behind.

        Loved this post, and love how you make me think harder. Thanks, Johnny!

        • Johnny says:

          And of course, you can’t truly BE without DOING, though “doing” may not look like physical action. Like… I couldn’t say I am (BEING) a good person but I never actually do, say, or act (DOING) in any ways that are remotely good. I’d argue that to be good, you need to in some way DO good things, even if it’s just being kind.

  13. Wendy Merron says:

    What a thoughtful and poignant post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

    I just came back from a workshop with Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the soul.) As I drove home I was wondering how I must play in a bigger way to promote my upcoming book. Putting myself out there was beginning to feel really stressful.

    Reading your post put things into a calm perspective for me. Reading about your grandfather helped me realize that I gain nothing by standing on the sidelines.

    Thank you Johnny. Your timing is perfect.

    • Johnny says:

      As the saying goes, you only get one shot.

      BTW, if you haven’t read the “Universe” post I linked to, definitely give that a read. It speaks more directly to that point, I think.

  14. Hi Johnny, your grandfather would be very proud. This is a wonderful eulogy for him and for his legacy in you.

    Today I learned of the death of my 31 year old nephew also named Johnny. He had six year old twin boys, one of whom had medical issues and was recently in the hospital for 9 months. He committed suicide because he couldn’t pay his medical bills and didn’t want any more harassing phone calls from the “caring professionals.”

    Johnny did not have a long full life. No one in the family was prepared or expected his death. It was not the usual life cycle. His pain is over, but the pain for his family and especially his wife and children is worse. The sadness will be with us forever.

    The other point of your article is about the call to action for the people who live. “If you’ve influenced people, they’ll influence others, and you’ll live forever in the butterfly effect.”

    I will forever be an unpoplular and outspoken advocate for vulnerable people. And when I urge people to look at the advantages of Obamacare and Universal Health Care coverage, I will ask them to remember Johnny, and my friend Debbie and another 24 year old father who also committed suicide over medical bills and health concerns. 3 people who I know committed suicide over medical bills–that’s 3 too many. And while people who have health insurance will fight to the death, families with children who are medically fragile are hoping for relief.

    So I spread my butterfly wings and wait for those who are bigger, have more money and power to rip them off. And, like you said, it really is not about me–it is about US–all of us.

    And maybe I’m wrong to believe families need government help to protect us from the medical professionals and insurance companies, but you can write that on my tombstone. In capital letters.

    Er, I also want to be cremated, so maybe that’s not such a worry after all.

    Thanks for your inspiring post Johnny. God Bless.

    • Johnny says:

      Ugh, that story is terrible. But I’m glad that you’re telling your own truth, regardless of what anyone else may think. And that you’re proud to do so.

  15. Under the Flag

    The draping, it is perfect
    No wrinkles will you see
    A symbol of a nation
    A reminder that we’re free

    Most prefer it flying
    Free to wave and blow
    Not sitting on a mantel
    Without the stripes to show

    This is the end of service
    For it and one you love
    A subtle juxtaposition
    Of which is up above

    For each flag sitting folded
    For all the world to see
    A soldier’s spirit is soaring
    Oer a nation that is free

  16. Bill Bostic says:

    I too would prefer to be cremated and would not want a yucky viewing, and I’m busy stirring things up in my neck of the woods so there’s plenty of material to talk about when I kick the proverbial bucket.

    Thanks for your inspiring words, Johnny.

  17. Sometime I read something that I wish I would have written.

  18. Judi knight says:

    Very moving post. I am so glad you sent it out. Your grandfather sounds like my Dad who also lived bigger than life, vibrant and loving. He died of Melanoma which has no treatment. He knew he was going to die from this disease but it was not dinilitating until the last four weeks, long enough to say goodbye to his seven children and big family. Like you said, he did it right and I can only hope to live such a good life and die so bravely. He was always going out to sea on long cruises. Sometimes he would be gone for almost a year. I am glad he went first. He would have wanted it that way. And I often feel that he is out there leading the way for us. Thanks for telling us this story. And here’s to making a difference while we have the chance.

  19. Glenn says:

    Johnny, pretty good stuff here, man. I teach the 5 Levels of Commitment, No. 5 being Live It. Your article made me think of that cuz you really only know if someone has lived it once they’re not anymore. Sorta the ultimate litmus test.
    And I think we’re all cool on the universe article, right Readers? It made the point very, very well. (too bad for the cat who feels smaller now, there are some small people out there living in their small little worlds waiting and watching for anyone they can try to make even smaller than themselves so they can feel just a wee bit bigger…we’ll leave then to their smallness).
    Keep it up, you’re doing epic stuff. HMIimd

    • Johnny says:

      I firmly believe that you’ve got to keep in mind the fact that your life will end if you want to live it. Too bad it’s such a tricky realization to deal with day to day.

  20. Lennon Craig says:

    Hear how me want to dismist, only for me to have a round life no one see the begining from the incubator of the womb and then taken away like Melchesidech no end of days, LOL…

  21. Dave Mariano says:

    Here’s how I connect your posts: the “Universe” cares about you leaving a lasting impression on it. No matter what, this lasting impression is more meaningful when you’ve impacted people. But this same “Universe” wants you to be ok with making mistakes while you’re trying to figure out how to do it.

    • Johnny says:

      Sort of. I guess a succinct way to put it would be, “Get over yourself and make the change you can, because nobody’s going to give a shit if you don’t.”

  22. Sandy Walker says:

    While I am sorry for your loss, I am also extremely happy, for you had the opportunity to be a part of his wonderful life. We seem to be creatures of habit, and we have been pre-programmed to mourn a death. In truth we should celebrate a life well lived. I have instructed my children not to have a traditional “funeral” when I pass, but to use the funds I set aside for a celebration…..where all those who I leave behind can get together, raise a glass, and celebrate the fact that I lived and that they are my legacy.
    Kudos to you for a wonderfully written “Obit” to one who had such a profound influence on who you are and who your children will become.

  23. Sue Neal says:

    Thanks for an inspiring and thought-provoking post. I really relate to what you say about ‘getting over’ yourself – like many people, much of my life’s experience has been diminished by fear and anxiety. It’s taken me years to be able to say ‘so what?’ and start living – better late than never, eh?

    I don’t want to live forever. I just want to be sure I’m ‘alive’ today. And I think reflecting on your own death can be quite a tonic – it makes me feel glad and excited that I’m still here – it makes me want to do something worthwhile with this precious bit of time I have left. Thanks for reminding me of that.


  24. Rob Prince says:

    Very interesting post. It makes me uncomfortable. Thank you for that. 🙂 No sarcasm. An honest thank you.

    I keep thinking of the Willie Nelson song “Roll me up and smoke me when I die”… Look it up on iTunes. Well worth the $1 or so, even if you don’t like Willie…

    I’m proud of you for following your muse and writing stuff like this… Keep on keeping on. 🙂

  25. Love this: “You are the turbulance you leave behind you in the stream of time.” And not just because it’s poetic. What a fantastic way to think about life moment to moment. I’m not my house, my car, my job, my body, etc. I’m a being creating turbulance. Cool.

  26. HANNAH says:

    Well…perhaps I can throw something into the discussion.

    I am speaking from the perspective of recently becoming entitled to senior’s discount everywhere I go. ( I always think I am twenty years younger than I am. As long as everyone else thought the same–fortunately they still do–it was easy to kid myself. Anyway, it was a rude awakening a couple of months ago to realize that in twenty years–if I am still living–I will be eighty.)

    The doing vs. being comments might have been made by me, even up till a few months ago. Then, something going on in my personal life opened up another perspective.

    What impact would it have on your life (and mine) if we were pursued by an intelligent, imaginative, creative, intuitve, most loving and most kind personality, with the one intention of loving us?

    The reason I ask is–I think lives are transformed by relationships that somehow influence us to be better than we can manage by ourselves. I am not sure that self-help books and courses succeed in transforming a life at all, although they may help someone get the motivation to change direction.

    There is something overwhelmingly good about the power and influence of love on a person.

    You probably remember Dean Martin’s song: YOU’RE NOBODY TILL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU? (Okay I just dated myself.) The songwriter might have had the power of love in mind when he/she wrote that song.

    I got to some of my thinking by watching the relationship between myself and my cat. When I go out and his eyes are on me, I say I’m coming back, don’t worry. Even though he doesn’t get human talk, I feel compelled to add, I’m coming back because I love you.

    Supposing this great Person gave YOU that message? the I-Love-you-and-I’m-coming-back-for-you message.

    Wouldn’t that make your life–however long or short–have meaning ? Wouldn’t that make you and me, with all our falling-short-of-the mark days, beings whose lives have value and therefore meaning because of not all we can do, or all we can be, but all that we are through relationship?

    Anyone who has read the Old Testament or New (or both) understands they both refer to a distinct and all-powerful supernatural Being whose message is I Love You and I Have A Plan To Rescue You. I Am Coming Back For You Because I Love You So Dearly.

    Notice it is not about what we have done or been–although those things are surely important, too.

    In the end, it is about our relationship to the Supreme Being in the Universe that makes our lives meaningful, and which changes us so that we can be to the world around us what we should for the brief speck of our time on earth.

    I am only sorry I am so late in coming to this realization. If you are young, you may not be there in your thinking yet. If you see the clock and notice that the years/months/weeks grow short, take heart. You and I are pursued by the most wonderful, creative, intelligent, loving, generous Heart in the universe.

    We have only to open our heart’s door and say “Come in. Make my life new. I want to love you, too.”

    If you are not sure about what I am saying, that’s okay. This is not reached entirely through the intellect, although some of it is. Some of it is an understanding about what we are NOT, and can never be. As finite creatures, we have power over very little, which is what I think Johnny was saying, in his search for MEANING in the brevity of life.

    If you want to know what you believe about the important issuses of life, consider what you would do in the last few seconds if you knew your plane was going down.

    The Bible says our earth lives are but a mist. That we are like the grass that soon withers and dies. I’m not saying that’s exciting news to a person who still thinks and behaves like she’s twenty years younger than she is, but I am saying that I have finally got the part about my life being valuable and meaningful only through my relationship to my Creator and God.

    Thank you for allowing me this space, and for starting the reflective discussion, which seems to have touched a lot of people where they live.

    • Johnny says:

      Makes sense. But as you suggest, I think that realizations like that are realizations that we have to come to ourselves, via our own means. I’ve had several (terrestrial) lessons myself that people have tried to teach me… but that I wasn’t ready to hear until my own time. I guess a nudge is what we can hope to impart, and see where it takes a person.

  27. ashok hemmige says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I must confess that I don’t always read your posts.

    But I was destined to read this – some one up there must have decided that I need this education badly, and pressed a button.

    It just leaves us speechless.
    And feeling blessed for this realization.

    Thanks Man! More power to your pen

  28. I’m thinking I may get a collection of tattoos to remind myself of important things. Like post-its, but ones that I can’t lose. So far on my list are: “Fear is ignorance”, “The map is not the territory”, and now “Create turbulence”. Possibly also “Death is a deadline”, because that’s genius in about 70 ways.

    Thanks for another great post, it’s elbowed me to keep moving onward and upward! (That’s also my ideal funeral: to be cremated and have my ashes made into fireworks.)

  29. Jess says:

    I think this should be required life reading, seriously.

    I’ve reached the age (30s) where I’m now losing my grandparents – either to death or dementia – and my dad is battling cancer. It really brings home the fact that ‘death is indeed a deadline’ and that none of us live forever.

    As an adult I’ve always been acutely aware of this fact, which is why I live the way I do (self-employed, chasing my dreams and all that) and a day does not go by that I remind myself to be thankful that I’m not on the ol’ ‘work for the man’ treadmill. I don’t want to wait till I retire to ‘live’.

    It’s nice to do work that helps people, that makes me happy, and that brings in enough money for a simple life. Though I think I want to put more effort into the ‘helping people’ bit, so thanks for the reminder 😉

  30. Susan says:

    Great blog, Johnny. Thanks. In the same day, I came across this clip, a man who gets to see something of his legacy… -I think you and your readers would enjoy watching it.

  31. Glenn Dixon says:

    My great-aunt is 99. I got to spend a small amount of time with her this last summer. At one point during our visit, she said something along the lines of “I think it’s possible to live too long.” It is an interesting perspective, and one we rarely think about. Heinlein explored it through the character of Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love. I hope I inherited the genetics of my Great Aunt somewhere along the line and if nothing else she has caused me to realize that I haven’t saved up nearly enough money…

    • Johnny says:

      Yeah, I agree. I suspect that eventually you’ve done what you came to do, but that’s really cool to hear it from someone that far along.

  32. Tom Bentley says:

    Johnny, thanks. You do write some posts that are the worm that tunnels around in the mind, making some new channels, those sometime a bit uncomfortable. [Note: I’m not equating your writing with worminess.]

    I do share some sense of the continuum of the acts done before us, those done by us and those done by those influenced or touched by us. Thanks for the provocation and the turbulence.

  33. Hi Johnny, love your post full of thoughtful reminders that to live in fear and just get by is to live without much impact.

    May dad died a week ago. I got to spend a lot of time with him the last few weeks. We got to appreciate each other and that felt so real and alive to me. He was a kind person who had strong beliefs (many different than mine). He did not seem afraid of dying. He did much giving so his life will continue to have impact for a long time.

    My work as a mental health professional for 35 years has also had a positive impact and dad influenced me to be the person I am today. The influence goes on.

    As I am embark on my own away from working for agencies, I will be encouraged by values he taught me. I know he was never too old to make a further difference and I am sure that is true for me also.

    He and I will get along better soul to soul than father and son and I already sense that is true. He has let me know his respect for who I am since he left his body. The influence continues in ways many don’t noticed but like a river quiet and powerful.

    One add to your wonderful ideas here: you said it is not the being but the doing. I would suggest it is your being in what you do that makes all the difference. If you show up fully, with passion, purpose and intention you being is powerful. If you just do the influence trails off.

    Thanks for being true to you,

    • Johnny says:

      Sorry to hear about your loss, Joseph. Sounds like his influence will definitely live on.

      I don’t think I expressed myself as well about doing as I’d have liked. I agree with your assessment… doing by rote isn’t as powerful, but in the end it’s a lot of semantics. Showing up more fully is a form of “doing”… I guess I was contrasting it with people who have big ideas, but they remain ideas.

  34. Anne Galivan says:

    I had so many thoughts as I read this post. One of those is to admonish/encourage you not to tell the people who care about you how to act at your funeral. Perhaps I have misconstrued your message a little, but, as I think you would acknowledge, your funeral is not for YOU, it is for those who love you who are grieving. They are the living and they NEED to grieve.

    I learned this when my 37-year old brother was killed by a drunk driver. No one told me I needed to grieve. No one gave me “permission.” I was told by other Christians that Christians, essentially, shouldn’t grieve or be sad (even though the Bible says to “mourn with those who mourn.”) My husband, more-or-less, told me I was a buzz-kill. Others told me I couldn’t/shouldn’t mourn because I needed to be strong for my kids. Others told me I needed to be strong for my parents.

    I have battled a chronic illness for over 12 years because my body desperately needed to grieve all those years ago, but no one gave me permission to – in fact, I was told that to grieve would be weak and wrong -so I didn’t grieve. Not like I needed to anyway.

    When my 19-year old niece was killed in a traffic accident 5 years ago – an event that puts a knife through my heart to this day – I made it a point to tell her sister, who was one year younger than her, that she needed to make sure to take care of herself. I explained to her that no one had told me when I was grieving for my brother (her uncle) that I needed to take care of myself, but I was telling HER that, as much as she might want to be strong for her parents and her siblings, she needed to take care of herself too. In other words, I gave her “permission” to grieve. I wish someone had done that for me. So please, don’t tell people how to grieve when you are gone. They should have permission to grieve in whatever way suits them and their needs.

    Secondly, this post reminded me very much of the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I think the perennial popularity of that movie is due to what you talk about here. People want to believe that their lives DO matter. And when you see illustrated in that movie how one person’s existence mattered so very much, it encourages each of us that we matter too.

    Third, I do disagree that we don’t miss the physical presence of those we love. I have lost many family members far too soon (such as my brother and my niece) and I lost my dad at the age of 74 to a cancer we knew for six years was going to kill him, and I can say that I VERY much miss their physical presence. I ache to hear my brother’s voice, not on the karoake cassette tape I have, but for REAL. And I miss my dad’s laugh. Every time I enter the house my parents lived in since 1989, I get this let-down feeling all over again. Kind of like a huge, deep sigh, because he’s not there sitting in his Lazy-Boy yelling at whoever’s playing whatever sport he might happen to be watching at that moment. I very much miss his physical presence.

    Finally, your post made me think of a Scripture verse I read just earlier today: Psalm 90:10-12. Part of it says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This is how I try to live my life. It’s not about if I’m doing something fun or “making my dreams come true.” It’s about serving God, living in a way that ultimately brings Him glory and that is a blessing, not a curse, to those around me. For me that has meant being a SAHM for 28 years and a homeschooling mom for 22 years (and counting). My children are my legacy to this world. I have four of them and that means that as I have poured myself into raising them, I have just quadrupled my impact on this world. I also reach out through my homeschooling website, and I’m one of the few people left in the world (it seems) that will still send someone a sympathy or get-well card (like in an envelope…with a stamp on it!) Yes, the little things do count. And I do those. But I have focused like a laser on raising my kids because they are, indeed, the most important job God has given me to do on this earth and if I don’t do that well, not much else matters.

  35. Mike says:

    This is the first time I have been to your site…holy shit! Are all the posts this good? It is a most succinct expression of the way that we all need to view life, and death. I guess I will be up for a while going through the rest of the blog. BTW, I intend to send this to everyone that I give a crap about, and hopefully it will touch them as it did me…thanks!

    • Johnny says:

      Thanks man… I don’t write as much as I probably should, but I do that because I try only to write when I have somthing good to say.

      Did you check out the post in the sidebar called “The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You?” That’s my biggest and most popular.

  36. I’m a bit late to the party but I’m glad I left this link in my inbox to read later. Very good.

  37. Fred says:

    Exactly one year ago, I cried like really hard after losing a very close friend. It was really painful because we had been through so much and done loads of cool shit together. As such, I sort of resonate with the major points you put across with this post. It makes me want to pursue my dreams the more. It’s like you’ve jolted me back from inaction. Thanks Johnny for these great words. You shall live forever!

  38. Jlina says:

    I think something’s missing in the military/service analogy. My mother was a nurse at the poor people’s county hospital – her funeral was overflowing. However, she’d alienated her other daughter to the point where they hadn’t spoken in 3 years.

    True success has to be on all levels, or involve some sort of social contract such as you don’t give ALL your being away to strangers. It’s made her death very complicated for me. I can’t think of her as the saint the world does, knowing how messed up the family was inside.

    For me? I have no children and sometimes wonder if anyone will be at my funeral; or if I’ll outlive everyone who cares for me – esp. since the family unit is splintered and broken. I believe we make our own families, too, btw.

    But I don’t think I’ll really care who shows up at that point. There is much to be said for a life well lived; and many people have called me a catalyst and said my words changed their lives. But I have no idea where they are now….

    I think you can only judge how much life you’re living by how much life you’ve lived. Having traveled a lot, lived in another country, modeled, salmon fished in Alaska means a lot to me, but –

    I’m more interested in how NOT to live on your glory days! That would make a great post. For those of us who indeed have lived outside the box, the question becomes how to keep believing that the next best thing is right in front of you.

    So, Johnny – and your friend who wants to live longer, too – how do you be old without being OLD?

    How do you plan a funeral no one might come to and still feel good about it?

    How do you not mourn a death that created a total division of your family and the dysfunction still exists? Makes it much more complicated to celebrate a life.

    Those are question’s I wonder about. Sometimes I think it’s morbid to imagine being dead, then I read your post and laugh out loud. It’s definitely worth giving some thought to!

  39. jlina says:

    And about the story above…she also died young, smoked 2 packs a day, retired and was gone in 3 months. Never got her first retirement check, basically killed herself.

    So, for me, death is not a way to define a life, nor is how many people you helped/touched/nursed, et. al. vs how much damage you did or however one would quantify it.

    I’m betting we actually do live forever, in the sense that we never cease existing – and boy, oh, boy do I hope we do it with our individuality intact!

    Don’t wanna be no un-selfaware drop in an ocean!

  40. Reginald says:

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  1. […] I swear that all of life’s answers are in the film The Matrix. So let’s heed Agent Smith’s advice, such as it is. Without purpose, we would not exist — not in any way that matters. But with purpose? With a mission? With both hands on the steering wheel? Well with that, hell… you can live forever. […]

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