Queen Elizabeth I was a remarkable woman. She was uncommon and special is so many ways. She was believed to have known nine languages. She was considered one of the best educated women of her time. And she presided over many English battle victories.
And yet in one other way, she was incredibly common—not unlike so many of us: She basically refused to think of her own mortality. Maybe she was too afraid. Maybe she thought she’d live forever. Either way, she refused to plan for a successor in any form. She never got married, despite numerous courtships. She never had children. If she had been an ordinary person, this would have been her prerogative, but she wasn’t. A queen without an heir puts the entire kingdom at risk. A ruler who doesn’t consider what comes after them is bequeathing chaos and carnage on their subjects.
Sir Walter Raleigh, writing late in Queen Elizabeth’s life, saw this happening. He saw the Queen getting older and her options disappearing, as she grew older and grey. She was, he said, “a lady whom time has surprised.” What a great phrase! Because it describes so many of us. It’s the CEO who can’t groom the next generation of leadership in the company. It’s the partier whose twenties have turned into their thirties and can’t see how pathetic they look. It’s the grandma or grandpa who shudders at that word—old—who, me? I’m not old!
We have to remember, as Seneca told us, that old age and death aren’t this thing that lies off in the distant future. It’s a process that’s happening to us always and everywhere. We cannot let time surprise us. We must be thinking of it always. That’s how we make sure we are living for today, that we are leaving nothing unfinished or unresolved. We have a duty to ourselves and others, Seneca said, to live each day like a complete life. To keep our affairs in order because we have no idea what’s going to happen or how much time we will be given.
Don’t delay. Don’t deny. Don’t be surprised. Do your duty. Face your fears...and your mortality. Today and always.