Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Thinking about my life backward from the very end I'm speeding toward

When I envision it in my head, I hope my final moments alive on this Earth are surrounded by my family. As many of them as possible, and I hope that means I don’t outlive my kids and maybe not my wife either. I hope that it’s peaceful and not too painful. I hope it’s at least a few decades from now, too. At the same time, I hope that moment isn’t one whose arrival I’ve cheated and delayed at great personal cost.

And amidst that scene, when my life is waning, I think about the last few minutes - the last few breaths, even - and how I want them to feel. The regrets that I hope I don’t have and what my life looks like from a vantage point at the very end.

This is a concept Robyn and I have talked about, in a general sense. And our conclusions are pretty simple.

At the end of our life, we don’t imagine wishing we would’ve spent more time working or wishing we had made more money. Or wishing we would’ve spent less time with our kids and our family. We won’t wish we would’ve drank more alcohol, or wish we had spent less time together. We won’t wish that we had been more popular or powerful, or conclude that we had wasted too much time praying. At the end of life, we won’t ever wish that we had put less effort toward being kind and loving toward other living things.

When my Papa went ahead, the part of me that wanted to be a king died with him. King of a company, king of my neighborhood, king of my peers, or even just king of my own backyard. For my whole life, I had wanted to be the king of something, but once he passed, I just didn’t care anymore.

Being the last person by my father’s side, in his final moments, changed everything. I stopped thinking of my life from beginning to the end, and I instead started thinking about it from the end - the very end - to the beginning. And when I did that, being a king didn’t matter much anymore.

And I feel such tension now with parts of American culture. I don’t care about being the big fish in the pond like I used to (and I used to). But I feel like the culture around me signals that competition, fame, talent, status, and wealth is the point. That I should care about those things.

I don’t want to be that person anymore because to be honest, that final moment doesn’t feel far away anymore. My father was older than 60, but he was a young man. And the final moment doesn’t just feel closer than it used to, it feels like it’s coming faster. Like I’m speeding toward it. Like we’re all speeding toward it, faster and faster.

And I don’t know what my conclusion is here. Maybe I don’t have one yet. I guess I hope writing and sharing this, reveals that I can’t be the only one feeling this tearing between the way I want to anchor my life, versus the way I see the brazen and competitive parts of American culture telling me to. Because at the end, the very very end, I want to leave this Earth without wondering whether I had missed the point, wishing I had changed something sooner.