I asked a friend what he would do with a year left to live. He said travel. And I get that. The impulse being that if life just got noticeably shorter one should try to absorb as much of it as possible.
This is wrong. It arouses contempt in my nihilist heart.
Let’s say you had a camera that only kept pictures for a day. It erases an unremovable memory card every night. Would your first instinct be to go out and take as many great photos as you could today?
All the experiences that you feel so much awe about disappear with you. Like tears in rain, as a dying android once said.
And that, kids, is where death anxiety comes from. I know you think you’re being all zen Buddhist and living for the moment but that will feel extremely hollow when your time and cause of death become inescapablely known to you.
A selfish life leads to a meaningless death. When people talk about living for the moment they’re trying to rationalize away the fear of a meaningless life.
If life is a chain of experiences and those experiences only have meaning to you then by definition your life becomes meaningless as soon as you no longer perceive it. Because you’re dead.
I think it’s what you leave behind that matters. And yes someday all that I leave behind and all who remember any trace of me will also be dead and eventually the earth will be consumed in the life cycle of the sun and then the sun will also die but that’s not really emotionally relevant and it’s actually just a bit of a cop out for people hiding behind nihilism and not really coping with it. Anyway…
I think it’s what you leave behind that will bring any possible comfort in the moments leading up to your death. Better to say “At least my [music, company, family, charitable foundation, award winning tomato sauce, whatever] will live on” rather than “At least I experienced being one of 800 people who saw the Mona Lisa that day ten years ago.”
I’m quite good at living each day as if it were my last. As good as anyone is with that idiotic aphorism. I still have death anxiety though. Not the standard existential fear that grips middle class people who don’t have enough immediate problems, which is that the world will function completely normally from the moment they die and ever onward. Which it will. Because you’re dead and not special. What I worry about is the last few moments of life.
You see, I’ve made some pretty bold statements in my life. I’ve always dug for the hard truths and prided myself on facing them. What I’m really scared of is being scared. So scared I retreat into the same cowardly myths that I’ve given the world so much shit for believing. It would suck to spend my whole life fighting for truth and then shit my pants and cry “jesus, allah, buddha I love you all” when I’m sliding into home.
I can’t control the circumstances of my death either. Probably. I might die in the passenger seat of a car sliding on some ice. That would be a bit underwhelming.
I also don’t want to die in an unnaturally sunny hospital bed surrounded by friends and family. That pansy crap doesn’t really happen anyway. I hope I die alone on a mountain top or the middle of the ocean. I want to die like Odysseus in Journey Of The Magi by Frank Turner. Which is, not coincidentally, the latest song I’m requesting be played at my funeral.
And for the record I hope my funeral is not soon. While all in all I’m not worried about dying I am in a time in my life where I’d prefer not to.