Live While Dying
Rather Than Die While Living

It is interesting how experiences that we had when we were young children, which were memorable and cherished at the other end of one's life, are seen even more clearly.  I grew up in Merchantville, NJ during and just after WWII. 


My dad was in the South Pacific and my mother and I lived with her sisters in their home.  I was about five at the time.  One of my grandparent's neighbors was Mr. Lee.  Mr. Lee fascinated me, in part, due to him being Chinese, which meant that he was the only Chinese person in the entire town.  Additionally, Mr. Lee would tell me stories about when he was young in China.  I don't recall his age back in the late 40s, but I could tell he was very old. 

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My mother took this picture of me while waiting for Mr. Lee to come out of his house.

When I saw him out on his front porch, I would visit him.  Back then, no one had air conditioning.  Therefore, on hot summer days, most people would escape to their front porches and enjoy the shade.  Mr. Lee intrigued me.  Today, I would say he was an old sage.  However, back then, he was just a good friend with interesting and compelling stories of China in the mid to the late 19th century.  Also, I noticed that he was different than most older people in the neighborhood.  He was active and always doing something.  He enjoyed life.

Mr. Lee never critiqued the neighbors who were old and doing nothing, but he taught me how to live a good life when I was hardly five years old.  One day, while rocking on his porch swing, he said, "Allen, remember this.  Live while dying rather than die while living."  That was the beginning of one of his lessons of life.  Then knowing that I very young, he knew that he needed to explain his suggestions to me.  Then he added, "Some people live lives to the fullest even though the living process will lead to death.  Others waste their lives complaining about everything."  Then Mr. Lee gave me five pieces of advice. 

  1. Mr. Lee instructed me to exercise daily and eat proper foods.  In that way, I would be healthy.  He ended that first adnomination with a warning.  "Without being in good health, the battle of life is prematurely doomed to defeat."
  2. Get a hobby was his next suggestion.  I needed to find something that you like to do and then do it.  He started me collecting pennies and showed me the date and place, which explained when and where they were minted.     
  3. Mr. Lee also wanted me to retain a positive mental attitude about my family and life in general.  Then he added, "Life can be an adventure or merely an endurance contest."  You decide.  
  4. Another suggestion that Mr. Lee gave me was to help someone every day.  He added that if we want help from another, provide aid to a person in need.  It was in the process of giving that we receive.  When I reach out to others, I will help them, society, as a whole, and strangely, I will be helped in the process. 
  5. The last recommendation to me nearly seven decades ago was that life isn't a dress rehearsal.  Life doesn't have many retakes.  We don't have the opportunity to redo scenes like in movies. 

My talking with Mr. Lee a long time ago was a great experience, and I thought that I understood his recommendations.  At one level, I did understand his suggestions.  However, at this end of life, I have danced with death twice and many things that I thought that I understood completely are more clearly understood by me now.  The last thing that I can remember Mr. Lee saying to me was something Confucius had said many centuries ago.  "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Mr. Lee surely assisted me in my initial steps on my journey in life.    

The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture

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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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Confucius Said


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