Jonathan Frostick recently had a heart attack.

It happened while he was desperately trying to complete work for his position as program manager at an investment firm in London. He almost chose to ignore the powerful pain that suddenly tightened his chest and made it almost impossible for him to breathe. He worried about this what he called “inconvenient” interruption to his job.

Forced to convalesce in the hospital, Frostick had an epiphany. Faced with the sudden confrontation with mortality, he rethought his life – his values, his reasons for living and most important of all his priorities. And then he posted his newly discovered “rules for living” on LinkedIn – and Frostick’s post went viral.

Hundreds of thousands “likes” expressed agreement. Tens of thousands took the time to echo his thoughts as the global pandemic added to its gruesome daily toll of victims. Newspapers around the world reprinted his words.

Truth be told, there were no newly discovered insights to be found in the short rules summing up the “discoveries” of a heart attack victim abruptly recognizing that the angel of death may select any one of us at an unpredictable moment of his choosing. Frostick merely reminded us of the simplest – and yet most profound – verities of life.

Beneath a photo of himself in his hospital bed, he posted new vows for his life going forward:

“I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore.”
“I’m restructuring my approach to work.”
“Life is too short.”
“I want to spend more time with my family.”

These lessons for leading a true life of success were always known and taught for thousands of years. They are at the heart of Jewish teachings and have been repeated endlessly by philosophers and theologians.

The pandemic has transformed death from a subconsciously denied reality far removed from the present, to an ongoing, ever-present possibility.

So why have Jonathan Frostick's words managed to make such a profound impact? To my mind it is directly linked to the pandemic that has transformed death from a subconsciously denied reality far removed from the present, to an ongoing, ever-present possibility, an unavoidable ending to the meaningless pursuits we allow to fill most of the limited time we are here on earth.

The past year made clear to all of us that death can come at any moment – and Jonathan Frostick’s heart attack served as powerful message for our mortality.

There is a remarkable legend about the death of Alexander the Great. On his death bed, Alexander summoned his generals and told them his three ultimate wishes:

  1. The best doctors should carry his coffin.

  2. The wealth he has accumulated (money, gold, precious stones etc.) should be scattered along the procession to the cemetery.

  3. His hands should be let loose, hanging outside the coffin for all to see.

His generals, surprised by these unusual requests, asked Alexander to explain.

He responded:

  1. I want the best doctors to carry my coffin to demonstrate that, in the face of death, even the best doctors in the world have no power to heal.

  2. I want the road to be covered with my treasure so that everybody sees that material wealth acquired on earth, stays on earth.

  3. I want my hands to swing in the wind so that people understand that we come to this world empty handed and we leave this world empty handed after the most precious treasure of all is exhausted, and that is TIME.

The Talmud puts it somewhat differently. When we are born our fists are clenched. It is as if the infant visually proclaims with its arrival that it will grasp all the world has to offer. With death, our hands open up – they are empty of possessions. All we take with us are the memories of our good deeds and the legacy of our contributions to the world, to others and to our families.

Of the countless responses to Jonathan Frostick’s “rules for life” the most constant refrain from readers was gratitude for putting into perspective the greater value of time spent with family than the worship of work for the sake of more material possessions.

How sad that one of the wealthiest men in the world didn’t learn this lesson until it was too late. Sam Walton was the multibillionaire CEO of Walmart, one of the largest American corporations. As he was lying on his deathbed, he struggled to get out his last three words on earth. He had given his life for his business. In that area, he succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. But it was at a price. He hardly spent any time with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. He didn’t allow himself the moments of loving interaction, of cuddling a grandchild on his lap, of playing and laughing and rejoicing with his loved ones.

His final three words? “I blew it!” He had the billions, but by his own admission he had failed.

In the aftermath of so much death, may we be granted the wisdom to learn from life’s brevity how to live lives of true meaning and importance.