Here’s an early Christmas present: my favorite blog post in the entire world. It’s an essay called “The Tail End” that Tim Urban wrote about five years ago. It’s so, so good.
In fact, you should really stop reading this and go read it, right now. Then come back.
So for those of you who didn’t actually read it, The Tail End starts out as a meditation on numbers and scale, with wonderful graphics. We get this amazing picture that shows all the days in a 90-year human life:
Each dot is a day and each block is a decade. So you can fit your whole life on a sheet of paper. By Urban’s metric, I’m an alarming 4.3 blocks into my projected 9-block life.
And then things start to get sad. Tim translates dots into concrete metrics. (Yes, Tim and I are on a first-name basis now–even since that last paragraph!–because I’ve read several many thousands of his words.) I can handle his upper limits on pizzas, Super Bowls, and–God willing–presidential elections. Maybe even books. If anything I think he’s being generous because he doesn’t work age-related decline into his numbers. I can eat far fewer pizzas today than I could 20 years ago.
But then Tim points out that most people spend the vast majority of the time they’ll ever get with their parents in their first 18 years:
During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood.
Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.
When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.
He hammers the point home with this graphic:
I don’t care who you are: That’s devastating. Especially this year, and especially if you’re not able to see your parents at the holidays.
Tim extracts a few useful lessons from this exercise:
- Priorities matter.
- Quality time matters.
- Living in the same place as people you love matters.
He’s pretty clearly right on all three. That’s why we read this essay to our kids every Christmas Eve, right after the Airing of Grievances and just before the Feats of Strength.
So how do we apply this to Virginia appellate law?
I mean, we don’t really. I just like you guys and this is the best memento mori I’ve ever seen, so I wanted to share it with you. Merry Christmas. Some things are more important that appeals.
But if we absolutely must stay on-brand, Tim’s bit about books is killer.
First, to clear the air, I call shenanigans. No way is Tim Urban reading just 5 books a year outside of WBW research. But he’s right that we don’t have enough time left to read our way through the library. We’ve got to prioritize. I plan to make a real effort in 2021 to stop reading garbage. Here are a few resources that I’m going to use to prioritize my reading:
- The reading list for an MA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College (the great books program). Old books are the best books! Some of them seem amazingly fresh. Machiavelli had more interesting things to say about the relationship between Congress and the President these past few years than most contemporary editorials. The Stoics wrote baller self-help books.
- Ryan Holiday’s list of 42 books that will make you a better person
- Download the Harvard Classics–maybe not the liveliest translations, but they’re free
Enjoy, and next time we talk, let me know what you’re reading.