A Cup of Tea With the Grim Reaper

May 11th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Some of you have asked that I post a copy of one of the speeches I’ve given over the past year, so I figured I’d go ahead and post one. This was a 7-minute speech I gave to a Toastmasters audience a few months ago called “A Cup of Tea With the Grim Reaper.”

The text alone won’t give you a sense of the delivery and the gestures, which is a big part of this speech, but the feedback I got suggested I blew the delivery anyway. There are a lot of ways to deliver a speech, and I’ve been experimenting with delivery methods to see what style works best for me — I gave this one a bit too much Martin Luther King, Jr. when it would have been better with a softer style like Sonia Choquette. This speech project was supposed to be an appeal to the emotions. Don’t take the content as indicative of what I’ll be doing professionally — this was a skill-building project for me. Here it is:

A Cup of Tea With the Grim Reaper

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but we’re all going to die. Not now… but someday… eventually we’ll all be dead. I’m not making this up. It’s actually going to happen. At some future time… everyone in this room… dead.

So how do you think you’ll go? Heart attack? Alzheimer’s disease? Cancer? Stroke? Alzheimer’s disease? … Perhaps being trampled by a fleeing audience?

My preference? Assassination. Then when I die, it’s an event. Maybe even get my own holiday.

Do you know how many people die every day? 153,000. That’s about 2 per second. In the time it takes me to give this speech, 700 people will lose their lives…. 701 if my assassin is here.

Death will claim our families… our friends… it will claim you and me. Our human existence… all of this … is temporary. Death is an event that every one of us will have to experience. Everyone. The Grim Reaper doesn’t maintain a “Do Not Kill” list.

What will happen when we die? Either we’ll cease to exist, or we’ll continue on in some form of afterlife. If part of us manages to endure after death, what part will it be?

It won’t be our physical bodies; those stay here. All our material possessions will remain behind as well. Even our personal relationships will be uprooted. If any part of us can possibly live on, it must be something beyond what we perceive with our physical senses. If we can see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, taste it… it stays here.

We’re all human beings. The human will eventually die, but what of the being? Is there some part of us that will survive death?

I do not know. I believe that there is. I have faith that there is. I even perceive some evidence that there is. But still I do not know. I will not really know what lies beyond death until this body dies.

The very nature of this puzzle prevents me from knowing the full truth in advance, and yet, I cannot begin to fully live without having an answer. None of us can.

So we’re left with only one option: our free will… our freedom to choose what we believe. We can choose to believe in oblivion, or we can choose to believe in permanence. If we ourselves are impermanent, then our lives can be filled only with impermanence. Everything we create… everything we are… will turn to dust. Nothing of our beings will endure. There can be no greater purpose for our lives. We can exist only for survival, a task at which we will ultimately fail.

But if we live for what is permanent, then even throughout our mortal existence, our lives will be infused with immortality. Our true beings can never be lost; they can only be transformed.

You see, the real question behind this choice is this: Is there a reason we exist? Does our human existence have a purpose? And if the answer is yes, then that purpose must come from the part of us that is permanent. Because that which is mortal can provide no purpose. It is only dust.

This is one of the most deeply human choices we face. Do we live for what is temporary, or do we live for what is permanent? Do we devote our lives to dust… or to destiny?

Someday our bodies will die. Our houses will crumble. Our loved ones will lament our passing. Our life stories will see no new pages written. In the long run… all of this… is dust. If we live for dust, then dust we become.

But when we choose to believe in our own permanence, we gain access to the very reason we exist. We come to know our purpose. And we finally begin living as the great spirits we truly are instead of the fragile shells which house them. We see that nothing temporary can give our lives meaning. Only the permanent can.

And what is permanent? It is what resonates deeply with the great spirits inside us. Truth. Compassion. Honor. Justice. Peace. Forgiveness. Humility. Courage. Faith. Kindness. Love.

That immortal being gives meaning to our human lives, so while we exist in these mortal bodies, we are not seduced by dust. Instead we live for what is real. And when our bodies die, some part of us survives.

Mozart’s body is dead. But his music endures.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s body is dead. But his dream is alive.
Mother Teresa’s body is dead. But her gift of compassion is not dead.

How many of the 700 people who died during this speech never embraced their own greatness? How many were obsessed with the accumulation of dust instead of the actualization of destiny?

The huge irony is that everything we acquire here in the physical world will be lost. Only that which we give of our permanent selves has the power to endure.

In the end it is all so simple, yet we make it so complicated. Our gift to the world may be a song, a poem, a painting, a child, or the expression of an idea whose time has come. Each of these gifts contains a piece of our own permanence. These are the vehicles through which we give inspiration, creativity, empathy. Not what is dust, but is what is real.

Don’t take your gifts to your grave. Let your spirit express its greatness. Live for what is real. And when you finally leave this world, it will be a peaceful transformation instead of a tragic realization.

Live for what is real.


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