One day it’s going to happen. Maybe you’ll get hit by a car later today. Maybe you’ll catch a rare disease. Maybe you’ll fall off a ladder.
Or maybe you’ll go like so many others do: you’ll reach a certain age and your hands will start to turn to claws. Your skin will dry. Your eyes will weaken. Your back will arch over. And then you’ll be in that bed, and you’ll be looking around you, and your loved ones will be crying, trying to stand strong as they watch your dry, weakened body fall apart.
And then you’ll take that last breath. And you’ll be gone.
Just like all of us.
We try so hard not to think about it. We go about our lives as if we’re going to live forever, as if we won’t die, as if death isn’t hanging over us at every moment. As if it’s not possible that today could be the last day of our lives, even though it totally could be.
The moment we’re alive, we’re dying. Heading on that march towards obliteration.
Even if you’re religious like me, and you believe in reincarnation or the afterlife or the era of Moshiach (the Messiah), you still believe that one day, this body of yours is going to be gone. Maybe back in another form, maybe the same body but elevated, maybe the soul up in heaven…
But no matter what… your life as you know it will be gone.
And I guess that’s why we don’t think about it. It’s probably a healthy thing to a certain extent. If it was always present in our minds we would go crazy.
I should know. I’ve talked about it before on these pages, but when I was young, I used to have an unhealthy obsession with death. I would lie in bed and think about it compulsively. I would contemplate how one day, this body I had, it would be gone, and I would be gone, and…
And eventually I would have a panic attack, and then I would run downstairs to talk to my parents to take my mind off of it. I would watch TV or read a book, or whatever else it took to let the thought of my existence being snuffed out to go away.
If you think about it, though, I think that’s how most of us approach death in our daily lives. We don’t want to think about it, and so we don’t talk about it. We pretend it’s not there. We shove old people into nursing homes. Movies and television turn violence and death into entertainment, ironically detaching us from its reality. We focus on our careers, on the pleasures in front of us, on any momentary happiness, doing our best to act like the clock isn’t ticking.
But the older I get, the closer to death I inch, the more it becomes real to me, the less I think that this is the way we should approach death. All of us pretending that we’ll just go on being young and vibrant our whole lives… that’s no way to live (or die).
No, as I’ve gotten older and accepted death, I’ve started to see it as the most positive thing to be aware of.
When I look at death, when I remind myself of it… I become aware of so much.
I become aware that I don’t have forever to do the things I need to do. I realize that if I don’t write this blog post today, if I don’t pray today, if I don’t give my daughter a kiss, if I don’t exercise, if I don’t turn this day into the day it’s meant to be… then I’ve lost a day before death. Someone who doesn’t realize there’s an end-point to it all thinks that there’s a “later”. Death reminds us that “now” is all there is.
I become aware that religion matters. That finding meaning matters. Because death is so absurd. It’s so weird. I am real, and yet I will be gone. That requires introspection. That requires taking life seriously. That requires letting go of my preconceptions and doing whatever I can to understand the absurdity and connect to something deeper.
I become aware that people matter. When I know you will die, that we will all die, then I realize we are in this sort of epic fight for understanding together. And even if you don’t want to think about death, I know that it matters to you. And I know that because we are death-brothers (and sisters) that I should be kind to you, I should treat you with respect. Because you could be gone at any moment. In the way that people at a funeral suddenly realize they cared about the person who passed, I can realize that now.
Those reasons, and so much more, are why death matters. Death is the reminder that there’s something more. That this isn’t all there is. In other words, nothing can make us more alive than remembering that we will die.
You will be dead one day. So will I. So will your children. So will your parents. So will everyone you know, and everyone else.
It can either be something you spend your whole life avoiding… or it can be the greatest source of strength you’ve ever tapped into.