Sunday, November 11, 2018

And When I Die

Sockeye salmon spawning in Weaver Creek - photos by Junie Quiroga

A couple of weeks ago I drove out to see the last of this year's sockeye salmon run as they spawned in the waters of Weaver Creek, a small tributary of the Fraser River. A remarkable feat as everyone should know by now since these fish have not only survived the hazards of the open ocean but also found their way back 4 years later to the exact same place they were born. Watching these noble creatures determinedly going about their business provoked a profound meditation on life and death.

Like all Pacific salmon, the sockeye species hatches in fresh water over the winter and spends the first year or so growing to smolt size before heading out to sea where they spend the next couple of years growing and maturing before they return to spawn and die. Out of the thousands of eggs laid and fertilized by each pair of salmon only a few complete the cycle and yet that's still enough to return millions of sockeye 4 years later in the summer and fall. Truly a miracle. 

But what makes the salmon so special is that, unlike other fish who never know when they are going to die, every salmon species has a definite end of life date (assuming of course they aren't eaten before they get to spawn and get through the gauntlet of fishing boats trying to catch them). Never resting from the minute they are born they embrace life with tremendous vigour and don't wait until they are sick or infirm to exit but rather, in the absolute prime of their life, come home to start a new generation before dying selflessly in the process. They have a fixed timeline to get through and they don't waste a moment.

How different this is for us humans who never want to acknowledge our own cycle of life. The average life expectancy of men & women in North America has increased from 71 in the 1960's to 82 years and more now. Those extra 10 years keeps us putting off ever having to think about the end but I wonder about the quality of life we actually enjoy in that extra time. Staying healthy, mentally stimulated, and physically fit are critical to a meaningful existence but, when that drops off, as it inevitably will, why do we insist on prolonging life?

Fall Colours - photos by Junie Quiroga

Just like the salmon, this is the time of year the trees start changing colour, putting on a blazing display of colour before their leaves die and fall to the ground. Another reminder of the circle of life and a time to consider the famous and not so famous people we know who have passed away. Were their lives complete and purposeful or were they just existing? Have we ourselves accomplished what we need to do or are we just ticking off the boxes on a bucket list? If we knew exactly when we would die would it change our daily focus? Would we waste our lives in traffic jams and soul destroying jobs? Would making money and spending it still be our primary goal? Would we raise our children differently? 

Maybe the reason we keep hanging onto life, when it no longer makes any sense, is because we never had any focus and so we keep thinking there's something more to come. Of course it doesn't help when the government insists on putting obstacles in the way of those who want to choose their time of dying. If instead we had lived more like the salmon and kept to our purpose we would be satisfied with what we had set out to accomplish and be ready to say goodbye at the right time. When I die I want to be like the salmon, at peace in my home stream.