There has been an overwhelming feeling of something inexplicable haunting me lately. It’s a quiet, slow, heavy type of mental weight, and for some reason has been a bit of a motif in my thoughts since the beginning of this year. It has been everywhere I explore and in everything with which I interact. And on an introductory side note: since I’ve began this writing project, I have received a lot of support from people who are excited to hear my thoughts and who connect with my outlooks. So to reward those people and furthermore myself, I will work on keeping all of these posts as uncensored as possible. With that being said, it’s time again to confront myself.
For three months, I have not been able to stop thinking about death.
I also promised myself that these posts wouldn’t always be so serious and gloomy! But here I am, talking about probably the scariest and depressing subjects of all life: the end. It’s unimaginable. It’s unappealing. It is completely unknown. So instead of bringing fear and melancholy into this short writing, let’s begin with a challenge. Let’s view death as positively as possible. Let’s treat it as a passage, sort of the inevitable adventure of ultimate surprise. I want to paint death in your mind as euphoria, like a dimension full of color and energy (and at this point I can’t help but recall Gandalf and Pippin’s moments just before the cave trolls come bursting through the doors in The Return of the King). Call me morbid, and I would agree! That is exactly what I want to be, because it’s about damn time we start talking about the end of our lives.
This semi-dismal topic (death) set up camp in my mind a few months back. I can’t pinpoint it’s origins…all I know is that it’s been a part of the daily cycle of thoughts. But at this point in my young life I feel on the brink of another rite of passage: the confrontation of losing somebody I love. And that bothers the hell out of me. Some days I refuse the thought, other days I feel inspired to act on that ticking clock. Tick. Tick. Tick. Time’s a wastin’. How would you feel if you knew when you would die? Would you like to know? What would you do today, right now? That cliché has run it’s course, so I won’t go there. Just food for the preface.
But being this young, I see no event horizon. As far as I’m concerned, I’m immortal. I’ve been consciously alive forever and my death will be the only thing capable to prove me wrong. If reality is a construct of my active imagination, then so are the deaths of others. But it’s never happened to me, so who is to say that it will? More food for prefacing.
But fuck all psychology and theory. I want to be serious.
So let’s talk serious: I will die. You will too. In 100 years, nobody you know will be alive. I will be gone. You will be gone. And there will never be another me or you in this world. Some argue that immortality is achieved through legacy; that Mark Twain cannot die because he will never be forgotten. But the fact is that his person is no longer a living, breathing, speaking being. And therefore he is dead.
Rewind to anthropology lecture about a month back. I was presented the topic of death and the way it exists in all its forms (and since I don’t have my notes with me, I’ll improvise. Please excuse the casual nature of the facts that follow, I’m going off of memory). Nowadays, due to medicinal breakthroughs, people can prolong life to absurd ages, only to be forced into nursing homes dependent on machines and human work to stay ‘alive’. Senior citizens are the forgotten realm of society. And when death arrives, it isn’t always as sudden as we think. We have clinical death, which is completely dead dead dead. Nothing is working. Corpse status. Bag it and tag it. Under that, we have many types of vegetative states, the pinnacle of those being brain dead in which the body is kept alive by machines but the ‘person’ is non-existent. Knowing there is no hope for return, the decision to pull the plug is relatively easy in comparison. Then there’s a persistent vegetative state in which the patient is partially aware but has suffered severe brain damage. Their life, if maintained, will be highly dependent. Euthanasia in these cases get tricky, though: what do you do when you look into their lifeless eyes and hope screams ‘just one more day…maybe he’ll wake up tomorrow and go back to his usual self’. See the Terry Schiavo case. But after a year, these patients fall into the permanent vegetative state, which is probably the hardest in the decision making. It becomes a question of investment: time, energy, emotion. Who’s going to make that decision?
And that was the question our professor asked. What do you do if you’re the hand that must play god? Who decides for somebody else’s life? This will happen to many of us at least once throughout our journey on this planet. As much as it is terrifying, it is necessary. And the problem with all this advancement in medicine? We can’t die! We just can’t fuckin’ die! Too many senior citizens slowly decline into dependency and begin to lose purpose in their life. What do you do at 95 except the routine? What kind of burden stalks your every day, knowing that it could be your last, forcing you away from ambition to start anything new? And when the time comes, the deathbed becomes a white, stiff mattress in a hospital room, surrounded by machines and strangers. So many people die away from home nowadays, stripped from the comfort and warmth of something familiar. And if that is my fate, then who should I trust with the decision of my life?
It’s time I make a bit of a will, sort of an outline of my ideal muerte. We’re deconstructing death, after all. Taking away it’s pedestal status. Bringing it down to earth. Realizing it. So here we go.
Starting at the basic level, all my material shit should be given to kids with needs. I trust my friends to figure out who gets my guitar, my car, my clothes. That stuff shouldn’t matter in the end, I’m no ancient Egyptian. As for the body, I want to be burned. Caskets are gaudy, cemeteries are a business. Besides, like my roomfriend Taylor Bauer and I discussed, we have no emotional connection to that strip of lawn anyway. Why deposit my remains there? If you want to visit me, go somewhere that meant something to us. You won’t have to compete with the tombstone next to you for spiritual condolence. If I’m mangled in a car accident, don’t bother keeping me alive. Please. I couldn’t exist in a body that isn’t my own. And my worst fear of all is losing a limb. I guess I’d be cool with losing a leg, since prosthetics are so advanced nowadays. But I’d rather be dead than lose an arm, because everything that makes my identity is channeled through my manual dexterity. And in the strange occurrence that I fall into a persistent vegetative state (as seen above), please take me home and let me die peacefully, surrounded by music and love. I don’t want to be some mechanical husk. As far as last words go, I can only think of something along these lines:
“Don’t take it all too seriously. Just be you. Don’t be a dick, just keep on loving”.
Am I missing something? I suppose the ideal age is somewhere in my 60’s: just long enough to have a fulfiling life, but not long enough to become dependent and worthless. See Tuesdays with Morrie. But hey, if I die tomorrow, I’ve loved you all more than I could express.
Sad shit over: time to get curious. Because lately I’ve thought about death like this:
Holy fuck, we all will die. And then the biggest mystery of all mysteries will be known.
Like, holy SHIT. Are you kidding me? How is this not somewhat exciting?!
Everybody has their theories of the afterlife. I wanna share mine: a purely imagined ideal situation that I can only hope will become real upon my passing. Because according to me, if anything in this world is a complete mindfuck, it is everything that is out of this world:
Space. That neverending oblivion is by far my favorite thing to think about. So in my ideal afterlife, I will know all of the secrets of the universe. I will able to fly between galaxies, fathom the power of black holes, conceptualize and fully understand time. Like Wall-E when he leaves his evac pod. My paradise exists in ethereal freedom and infinite knowledge. I want to see the colors past our spectrum. I want to tenfold my senses. I want to be completely free. I want to become pure love.
And the only way that this could ever potentially happen is if I die.
Scratch that, when I die.
Because I’m gonna die. And I’m sick of being afraid of it. And I don’t want it to be a taboo. And I don’t want to pretend to be immortal. And I’m just too damn tired of death being exclusively sad and hopeless.
We’re nearing THE END (of this post!), and a few hundred words earlier than usual (woohoo!). I want to share a few more thoughts. I feel that my life is soon to become challenged by death, within my immediate family or otherwise. I know what it feels to lose somebody, of course, but my experiences have yet to reach the magnitude of their potential. And that ugly feeling of leaving somebody or somewhere you love is always happening. Tomorrow, I will board a flight that will take me away from Falls Church, Virginia, one of my many homes. I love it here. I love my family here. Tonight I had to say ‘see you later’ again and it’s a bummer. But it’s selfish to expect things to never change, to eternally be happy and fulfilling. Because inevitably within my future lies so much pain and sorrow that I can’t help but try to prepare myself now. I will be tested. And I will learn. After all, life is in control.
Except I don’t want death to win.
When that time comes in which I lose somebody close, I will find solace in the embark of their new journey. They have begun the trek of death, of the epitome of wonder. Again, call me sick, but I can’t help but be excited for them. And because I’ve had to leave so many people already, I’ve learned to look back with happiness. With the feeling that I’ve learned something, that I’ve loved something, that somebody has meant something to me. And that’s fulfilling. So my final challenge is this: to smile behind the tears. To grieve, but also to celebrate. Death is but another life event. And within the hour it took me to write this page, countless people have just begun their flight into the abyss.
And that’s fucking awesome.
So my lovely readers, one quick moment to thank you in the unlikely event that I’m soon struck by the scythe of G.Reaper. It’s a rewarding feeling knowing that someone can relate to you, and that somebody is genuinely interested in what you have to rant about. I’m amazed that so many people read these long entries!
So if you’re interested in exploring death some more:
-watch this really cool TedTalk!:
Peter Saul talks about the questions I raised earlier: ‘who decides our fate? what kind of death will we experience?’ http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_saul_let_s_talk_about_dying.html
-listen to this music!
An absolutely beautiful piece of music that raises the question (and furthermore, when sung, is one of my favorite two lines of lyrics): ‘why are we here, why do we die?’
-read this book!
The infamous memoir Tuesdays With Morrie, a book that has had such a huge impact on my life and attempting to improve it:
-view my cinematic poetry!
I did this little bit when I was studying abroad last year. While away, I realized the importance and significance of each person. Then I understood how temporary we all are.
And, (you know it’s coming!)
Just keep on loving.