A wonderful American actor died this past week. Ray Liotta could chill you (Unlawful Entry) or cheer you up (Field of Dreams). He received 14 nominations for his performances, and won no less than nine of them, including a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.
When I found out that he died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he was filming a movie, my first thought was, “Good for him. He died in the saddle.” Then I thought, “I hope he really enjoyed his last day.” Because here’s the thing: he didn’t know it was his last day.
The 13th-century Buddhist master Nichiren Daishonin urged his followers to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the realisation that now is the last moment of one’s life. Members of SGI, of whom I am happy to count myself one, recognise Nichiren Daishonin as the Buddha for our current time period, known as the Latter Day of the Law, so his words carry a lot of weight.
Nevertheless, I have always struggled to chant with the feeling that now is my last moment. But since Ray Liotta’s unexpected death – to him and everyone else – I’ve given serious thought to how I would spend my day if I knew it was my last. How would I like my energy to be? How do I treat other people? How do I treat myself? Do I make the most of each day?
Yesterday this way of thinking motivated me to reclaim my long apartment balcony from the pigeons who invaded it two or three years ago. If people were to enter my home because I died, I didn’t want them seeing my balcony in the state it was in and wondering to themselves, “How could she live like that?” (!)
So I swept up A LOT of pigeon poop. I examined the few large empty pots I had placed upside down on the balcony (to prevent a repetition of the pigeon nursery I had last year) to see if they were still usable. Then I did something delightful.
I drove to a garden centre in the residential neighbourhood I formerly lived in and spent a blissful time in the Saturday sunshine looking at all the plants. I made my selection, bought a huge bag of potting soil and returned home.
Removing the huge bag of soil from my shopping buggy took concerted effort and a few profanities, but eventually I did it. Then the planting began. It felt great.
The result? By the time I finished I had created a simple and lovely spot for me to sit and enjoy the presence of some pretty flowers while surveying the trees in the ravine about 30 feet away from the building.
And this morning, despite not going to sleep early last night, I couldn’t wait to go outside to greet the day, again in sunshine. Usually I drag my heels – and the rest of me – to get out of bed by nine on a Sunday morning.
My balcony isn’t in perfect shape, and I know the pigeons will return when I’m not around. But it’s so much better than it was before. It looks as though the person who lives in this apartment cares enough to make it look nice. And I think that’s wonderful.
So I’m going to continue imagining that “today is my last day.” It helps me focus on the big picture and what is truly important, rather than getting lost in the minutiae!
Life is the most precious of all treasures. Even one extra day of life is worth more than ten million ryō of gold. ~ Nichiren Daishonin