About a week ago, I downloaded an app to my phone called, We Croak. I had read about it in The Atlantic, and wanted to try it for myself. Weary of all the fuss about mindfulness apps that encourage you to slow down and breathe in the middle of the day, this one promised something different.
The We Croak app buzzes my phone randomly, five times each day, with a simple message. “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” It’s based on a premise of Bhutanese mindfulness, that to be happy, you need to contemplate death five times a day. It’s a mindfulness memento mori if you will.
Somehow, being reminded of our own mortality has a power to focus the mind, and the actions of our lives. Grief can do that too. A couple of years ago when my mentor died, I became incredibly, intentionally, focused. I spoke and traveled and wrote, on top of an already demanding job. Part of that was the way I processed my sense of loss. But part of it was a reminder that we only have so much time, and if there are things I want to do then I’d better do them sooner than later. We can only live each moment once.
The We Croak app reminded me of the artwork of classical masters who would paint a skull somewhere on their canvas, just to remind the viewer that we do not have forever. We don’t encounter that reminder so often in contemporary culture, where we delude ourselves that we will go on like this into eternity. And so, as a theologian emerging from a period of existential angst, during which I reminded everyone around me regularly that we are going to die, I thought this app was just the thing for me.
Although I wouldn’t recommend We Croak for anyone struggling with depression, or harbouring a fear of death, I decided to try it for a week to see what effect it had as I encountered the reminder in various circumstances.
It buzzed me at my desk when I’d drifted over to Facebook in a weak moment of procrastination. “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” I closed FB and got back to my much more significant work. I didn’t want to spend precious moments drifting pointlessly around social media.
It buzzed me as I prepared for our commissioning service where we sent our graduates out into their ministries with God’s blessing. I smiled. This is good work. Worthwhile. A good use of limited time.
One early morning, I was lying in bed, with the sun streaming through the window, cuddling my nine year old son before we had to get up for school and work. My phone buzzed with a message. Wearily, I lifted the screen to my eyes and read, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”
With each buzz, I have the opportunity to click for a quote. I yawned and clicked. Today it was the artist Frida Kahlo. “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”
I recalled something I’d read recently about how one day when you pick up your son to hug him, it’s the last time you pick him up and you won’t even know, or remember. I don’t remember.
I hug him a little more tightly, and say, ‘Some day you won’t want to cuddle me anymore.”
He cuddles me tighter still. “Oh yes I will Mom. I will always want to cuddle you. I will cuddle you forever.”
Buzz. “Don’t forget…”
I put it down and ignore it for now.
Just for now, I’ll pretend we have forever.