William Irvine, an author and philosophy professor I’m a big fan of, often tries to point people towards a little-discussed fact of human life:
You always know when you’re doing something for the first time, and you almost never know when you’re doing something for the last time.
There was, or will be, a last time for everything you do, from climbing a tree to changing a diaper, and living with a practiced awareness of that fact can make even the most routine day feel like it’s bursting with blessings.
Of all the lasting takeaways from my periodic dives into Stoicism, this is the one that has enhanced my life the most. I’ve touched on it before in my Stoicism experiment log and in a Patreon post, and I intend to write about it many more times in the future (but who can say?)
To explain why someone might want to start thinking seriously about last times, Bill Irvine asks us to imagine a rare but relatable event: going to your favorite restaurant one last time, knowing it’s about to close up for good.
Predictably, dining on this last-ever night makes for a much richer experience than almost all the other times you’ve eaten at that restaurant, but it’s not because the food, decor, or service is any different than usual.
It’s better because you know it’s the last time, so you’re apt to savor everything you can about it, right down to the worn menus and tacky napkin rings. You’re unlikely to let any mistakes or imperfections bother you, and in fact you might find them endearing.
It becomes clearer than ever, in other words, how great it was while it lasted, and how little the petty stuff mattered. On that last dinner, you can set aside minor issues with ease, and appreciate even the most mundane details.
Anything else would seem foolish, because you’re here now, and this is it.
It might even occur to you that there’s no reason you couldn’t have enjoyed it this much every time you dined here – except that all the other times, you knew there would be more times, so you didn’t have to be so intentional about appreciating it.
That’s an exceptionally rare situation though. Almost always, we do things for the last time without knowing it’s the last time.
There was a last time – on an actual calendar date – when you drew a picture with crayons purely for your own pleasure. A last time you excitedly popped a Blockbuster rental into your VCR. A last time you played fetch with a certain dog.
Whenever the last time happened, it was “now” at the time.
You’ve certainly heard the heart-wrenching insight that there’s always a last time a parent picks up their child. By a certain age the child is too big, which means there’s always an ordinary day when the parent picks up and puts down their child as they have a thousand times before, with no awareness that it was the last time they would do it.
Ultimately there will be as many last times as there were first times.There will be last time you do laundry. A last time you eat pie. A last time you visit a favorite neighborhood, city, or country.
For every single friend you’ve ever had, there will be a last time you talk, or maybe there already has been.
*Featured post photo credit: Josh Applegate on Unsplash
*Original post date: 10-15-2021