We are all afraid to die and, in part, that is what keeps us alive. If we didn’t fear death so much, then we wouldn’t avoid, stall, delay it. And then life would be much, much shorter.
I have been thinking about death a lot lately. Lots of reasons really, but my dad’s health and dementia has really caused me to re-examine my thoughts and feelings about it. I mean, we are on a downward slide and there is nothing we can do to stop it and it has no known trajectory, it will happen slowly and then quickly and then lots of function can and will be lost and then there will be long plateaus. And the timing and the depths of loss will be something way beyond human control.
And so I fear death. But I also fear living, perhaps more. I am worried and concerned about how this is all going to play out. How it is going to feel to observe, standing by, watching, waiting, documenting the demise. It might be so much easier to not even be here. And by that I mean, perhaps death is always the easier answer. I mean then it is over for us, done. Nothing left for us to do. Why we fear this so much is such a weird thought for me. I mean there has to be some benefit to not having to worry and control and do stuff all the time. There has to be release in death...there just has to be.
I heard this guy talking the other day on a podcast and he was saying that what if the other side is amazing and beautiful and really the whole point of life is to prepare us to not have all these issues on the other side? What if we need this hard life, all the pain and sadness and difficulty so that when we die, we can really appreciate how wonderful it is to be free of it? I mean that kind of flips life on its head right? Life is our penance for the release of death. That was a total mindfuck.
Now I don’t know if that is what this guy was really saying. I don’t mean to misquote him. But that is what I heard and it changed something fundamental in me. I have lived most of my life running away from things that scare me...which is mostly people. I have avoided intimacy and closeness with an intensity that is almost pathological. Fuck, it has at times been pathological. And I, for the first part of my life, worked very hard to exit this life. Drinking and carrying on like I either didn’t care if death took me then, or that I cared so very little about myself that I was intentionally day after day putting myself in situations that were sure to take me out.
And I would love to say that getting sober changed my fear of death but more what I have come to know is that I have never really completely feared death, what I have been most of afraid of is living. Being who I am. Saying what I really feel and think. Sharing that with others. To a large degree, I have lived this locked up life where I hold back and only give you what passes the censors in my head. The committee that is strategic and coy and always working an angle. Instead of being truthful and saying what I really think and feel. As much as it pains me to admit, I am still very much afraid of life.
So I work on it. I work on saying the things that I am sure you don’t want to hear. To telling the truth and not manipulating you with a lot of nice words that lead nowhere. I am grateful to be willing to work on this, continually over the years. But I still hold a lot back, do not say what I feel mostly. You are still likely the last one to know you hurt my feelings, made me sad, disappointed me, angered me. I still play my cards very close to my chest, despite really fucking working to not do this anymore.
Sometimes I feel that I only exist in relation to others. That if all of you others go away, so do I. Which is a weird way of saying and owning my own co-dependenence.
So right now I have to own that I am afraid to live my own life. I mean really live it and own it and be responsible for it. I am on the cusp of some big changes, some I am choosing and a few others I am not. They are being forced upon me and I am seeking the value of them, because I know that with every hardship there is always a gift. Often, many gifts but I have found that I have to look for them. Because they are often buried and require a little effort on my part to dig up.
So here I am in Hawaii. Taking a much needed and well deserved vacation and I am doing what I always do when given the chance, reflecting on my life and how I am living it. And I have to say that this inventory has been pretty fucking awesome. I have never been so absolutely happy with the results while at the same time seeing the glaring deficiencies in my character. And I am ok with all of it. I am willing to do the work and I can also bask in the sun and enjoy the moment.
And I think that this might be the place that we hang out between living and dying. This place where you see it all, at least all you can in the moment, and you see the dysfunction and hardship and you are willing to change it, but also realize that you can’t change it right now. You are just being in the moment, seized up with painful thoughts and feelings, grieving all the losses that surround you. And you can be happy anyway. Content even.
I was standing on a ledge the other day, wind whipping around me, storm clouds blowing in with an intensity. I stood staring at the sea below, angry and being similarly whipped about. And I realized that it was a great metaphor for my life. I want the sunny easy conditions that are lovely and tolerable. And that is living. But so are the times you are standing on the edge of the world and nature is showing you how violent and unpleasant she can be. This is also life. And the suffering comes from seeking to only have the sunny easy days and avoiding the wind capped hustle days. No one likes feeling like they are going to be blown off a cliff but one cannot have only sunny happy carefree days either.
So one more time I just decided to love the hard with as much intensity and passion as I love the easy. That this season of life that is exquisitely painful is just another gift, and I am critical of the wrapping paper again. Such a particular person I am. So design oriented, so exacting in my habits and wishes to have things just so. And as I stood on the edge of the island watching nature’s violent show, I saw that there is beauty and love in everything, including pain and the best thing I can do with this life, is to love it all. Let it all in, let it change me, hurt me, devastate me, break me down and open me up. That life happens right there on the edge of being afraid to die while at the very same time being afraid to live. And that appears to be the place where I feel the most seen, the most loved, the most alive in this life. Right there on the edge of everything and nothing.
Fearing death is no way to live but it is necessary to keep me in the game. And fearing life is also no way to live and keeps me out of the game. So everyday I get to walk the fine line between the two, sometimes on a beautiful cliff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean in a state of winded distress and I get to be still for a moment, close my eyes and trust that everything in this life is designed for one and only one purpose: to wake me up to see that I am human so I suffer and that my strategies for living really only end up keeping me stuck. That full life living comes only after surrender, repeatedly. So I surrender again...still.