Submitted Date 08/16/2019

There's no escaping the incomprehensible thought: I'm going to die. As humans, we know it's real. The passage of time and people makes this cruel fact unavoidable. But we can't completely feel the full meaning or weight of mortality until it's upon us personally (or so, that's what I've been told).

The inevitable, ever-approaching expiration of our consciousness is one of the few certainties in life. It's not a matter of if, but when.

Countless poems, novels, self-help books, film scripts, and memoirs have been written about or around the ultimate truth: life is finite.

We. All. Die.

*and the reader chimes in*

'Hey! Wait just a damn second.

Death? What could possibly be more depressing, than death?'

Nothing, to be quite honest. Even for the most eternal optimists, the thought of our own demise can be paralyzing. There are few things more certain, yet nothing more uncertain. Here's what I mean:

Heartbreak is certain in life. As are times of professional and personal struggle. Agony is inherent to living. But the vast majority of us encounter these states, endure them, learn how to cope with them, and move past them. In short, we survive them.

There's no surviving death, and that's why it stands alone.

You get the point. The horse is dead (even Seabiscuit had to face his maker), I won't continue to beat it.We die. It's scary.

But death can also be a liberating force. Perhaps you've heard this. Maybe it seems cliché. But hear me out.

Really consider what it means to let death be your drive for a better life. What you do with the our temporary status as living beings is a matter of perspective.

Here today, possibly gone…today. It's possible. So where do you go from here? Once you sit face-to-face with the death realization, how will it impact your next move?

There are a few options, three of which I've outlined:

1) The nihilist route

Interpretation of mortality: We all die, and in 1,000 years only the most outstanding, unparalleled icons will be remembered (i.e. Billy Shakespeare, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, Socrates, maybe Gandhi, if he's lucky)

Conclusion: Why even try if we all end up six feet under in the end? Seek pleasure and instant gratification now, because the concept of self-sacrifice won't reap any real future rewards anyway. Never take on difficult tasks or pursue dreams, because even our thoughts (see: our brains) will end up eaten by worms when we inevitably die. Never claim responsibility for your own life, because nothing matters — your own life included.

Likely Result of This Thinking: An undignified death clouded by a drug and alcohol-induced stupor, bereft of friends or caring family, dignity, or tangible legacy for any offspring one may have produced. If heaven is real, the nihilist ain't going.

Or, perhaps you'll choose...

2) The hyper-cautious route

Interpretation of Mortality: Vehicles aren't modes of transportation, they're moving caskets. Planes are nothing more than depressurized mass graves gliding 40,000 feet in the sky. Hell, your own shadow can't be trusted not to stab you in the back — like, literally. Be wary of everything, trust nothing, stick to the safe route.

Conclusion: Stay inside and avoid adventure, because in adventure there is risk. Always, always, always avoid risk.

Likely Result of This Thinking: Loneliness, boredom, timidity, disappointment, stagnation in every sense of the word. Regret.

3) The middle road

Interpretation of Mortality: Death could come at any time. It's unavoidable. Plan for it where necessary, but don't let it cause a life of hermitage and fear, nor one of reckless selfishness in the name of immediate gratification and unfettered pleasure.

Conclusion: Be completely engaged in each interaction, don't waste a god damned second. The value in life lies in our relationships, self-worth, sense of pride, and duty to those we raise and mentor. Find out what you love, and who you love, and saturate your life with those activities and people. Because, after all, death can come at any moment, and we all die in the end.

Likely Result of This Thinking: A life with few regrets. A life dictated by decisive action, fulfilling interactions, and a sense of accomplishment. In other words, a life of value.

You may have already guessed that I am advocating for the third option, the middle road, as an ideal to strive towards. That isn't to say that I've achieved this course in life — I haven't. But it's in our interest to make death — inevitable as it is — as close to a source for good as it can possibly be.

Because death ain't going anywhere. As you grow older, economies will fluctuate. You'll change jobs, explore new romantic interests, add new friends and lose old ones. And more people you know will die. It's depressing in and of itself, but with the proper perspective, death doesn't have to be crippling to our psyche.

We all have a relative that's no longer here. I remember vividly the first funeral I attended — my grandfather's — and the sudden, incomparable sense of sadness that left my eyes welling.

I haven't had any family members die since. But they will. And others in my life have. Others that weren't supposed to go so young.

Life will frequently throw us startling reminders that mortality is not only for geriatrics. A high school classmate, Lara, was an acquaintance. I saw her each weekday in the hall of our small private school. She was eternally bubbly, always one of the loudest voices in the halls, and while we weren't especially close, she left most who interacted with her wondering: what in the hell could she possibly be so happy about?

At an age where fickle teenage romance, AP courses, and college admissions drove most of her (and my) peers to moodiness, Lara never appeared to get down. She was gregarious, non-exclusive in her friendships, and the furthest thing from snooty.

I need to make time to hang out with her more often, I thought on at least one occasion.

And then she was dead. Word spread through text chains, conversations amongst classmates, and phone calls.

Lara had been jogging on a quiet country road at night and was struck by a passing vehicle. Lara could be any of us, on any day, at any moment.

So what are you going to do with it?

Are you going to put real thought into what you need to do in order to finally pursue a career you actually love, instead of one you tolerate? Will you take the time to call the friend or family member that you haven't reached out to in months or years? Or turn off the TV and read that book you've been putting off?

Let the tenuous nature of our consciousness be motivation. Let it be the reason you sit down and talk with your father about his life. Let it drive you to tell your mom that you love her and appreciate her chicken pot pie, all the times she dropped you off at Pre-K, even her birthing you. The possibility that this interaction — every interaction— could be your last could be, in and of itself, the reason to live better.

Let death in, but only enough to light your fire for life.


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