I think one thing that tends to be avoided by the majority of humans (or cleverly masked behind ideals and deities) is death – and specifically, the fact that death is an inevitability.
You’re going to die. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second, you are getting closer and closer to eventually expiring. Death may come around the corner at any moment, too. Whether it be with a car hitting you, a freak accident, a simple fall, a sudden brain aneurysm – death and its inevitability is everywhere. While we are so capable of surviving, we are also incredibly fragile. People can die in literal seconds just because they tripped on a rock. It matters not how strong or capable you are, a very simple trip can kill you in an instant.
Not just this, but even the seemingly smallest of things can kill us, and very efficiently. Viruses, bacteria, a jellyfish the size of your hand – nature is vicious and brutal. It’s remarkable just how good we are at not dying given all the imminent threats around us – ones we are acutely aware of, and ones we take for granted respectively.
And yet we avoid talking about this much. We tend to cover up death, dying and expiration of life or “soften” its blow, and I think it is largely because death is a rather frightening thing to think about.
Expiration of one’s life means nothingness. It’s a literal end to everything, from the perspective of the one dying. You no longer are conscious of anything and whatever it is you knew ceases to exist. You go from existing to complete and utter non-existence. It is the end of the process that is living.
That’s a pretty strange and scary thing to think about when you really focus on it. I think it is also part of why people become attached to religions and the concept of an afterlife, because it acts as a buffer to the cold fact of expiration. When you die, it’s like waking from a dream and into a new reality, and that reality is a “heaven” – or hell, depending on whether you followed the rules.
But I argue that the inevitability of death and its absolute certainty needs to be focused on and spoken about. It requires attention and understanding, because while it is frightening, it also acts as a way to put life as a whole into perspective.
Consider the inevitability of expiration and how it ceases to give you the ability to value anything – after all, in order to value, there must be a valuer. Consider that expiration, and let it really sink in that in the time that you are alive, whatever time is spent is non-refundable.
It really, really isn’t refundable. You can’t get the time used back. And given the absolute totality of death, it puts into perspective the importance of life and living – and by that, I mean that you start to look at what is of actual value to you, and omit the things that are of little to no value to you.
Death is what reminds you that life is everything to you. It puts into perspective that the moment you die, you cease to be able to value anything, and when you recognize and truly understand this, you gain perspective on what truly matters to you.
Value is given by a valuer, but value is often taken for granted. By simply giving your time and energy to things without considering their true value to you, you’re spending time on things that will be forgotten by you in the future and will never be refundable.
People may argue that sometimes “wasting time” is good, and that this argument leads to someone living in such a way that they do something meaningful, that there should be urgency.
Not quite, because the question of “to WHOM is it meaningful?” must always be asked. Again, value is given by a valuer, and values are completely individual. If sitting and meditating for a few hours a day is of value to you, then it is not time wasted. But the nuance behind the point I make here is that death allows you to fully understand whether those values and hobbies you own are truly yours, or simply given to you from cultural osmosis. It allows you to put things into their proper perspective and hierarchy.
It gives you clarity in what to strive for, and the ability to fully “live”, so to speak.
People often talk about living life to their fullest, but the meaning of that needs to be clearly understood. The fullest life possible to you is a life lived in accordance to your values. It is not based on what culture, family, friends or anything other than you expects of you. That is living in accordance to other living beings’ values. Of course, one values the opinion and suggestions of others, but the chosen values must always be made by you and seriously considered by only you.
These choices often come with the proverbial emptying of one’s basket, however. As you age, you start to consider what is valuable to you and what is hindering those values and, consequently, your life. That leads to a likely cessation of many things, ranging from relationships, careers, hobbies, routines, living conditions, etc. Not doing this, combined with the lack of hard understanding of death, is what leads to wasted time, regret, un-fulfilment and ultimately dissatisfaction.
In essence, it is extremely difficult to truly put values in perspective and understand the fragility and priceless nature of life. It puts individuals in a position where they must be brutally honest with their decisions, and recognize, with intense lucidity, the potential wasted investments ranging from days to years. Emptying that basket is extraordinarily painful to do.
But I argue that it’s worth it, and I argue that because one will eventually die, these choices will eventually not matter and are thus important to make matter now – as to be alive is to value something. This is the strange slippery slope of life, values and death. Values are given by a valuer, thus metaphysically speaking, none of these things matter outside of your own life. They’re worthless in the universe, and this is largely where nihilism ends up in that everything is ultimately without meaning.
But I use it as a means to propel one into action, rather than inaction. Outside of yourself it is without meaning, and while the idea of that can make one feel inept in their action as they recognize their own size in comparison to existence as a whole, it can also provide an intense motivation to rebel against the notion of meaninglessness, and create something that is of value to you as long as you are alive.
Death gives us the power to put values into perspective, but its inevitability tends to create a sense of hopeless nihilism as our actions and values will, at some point, expire. But my argument is to act as a rebel against the eventual coming of death, and to fully embrace the priceless nature of life.
The fact that you are alive, that you are capable of valuing, and that you are capable of happiness, is the exact reason why one should live fully – because it is possible to do so as long as you are alive.
The ultimate cessation of it all is frightening, but the response to the identification of that is to say “to hell with you” and rebel with ruthless passion for living a good life that means something to you.
The inevitability of death gives us the ability to put our values into perspective, and the intense rebellion against it gives us the courage to take the actions necessary to live our lives to the best of our ability, based on our values.
A few years ago, I was considering suicide after a very difficult year that, at the time, thought was the end of all things meaningful to me, based on significant loss in my private life. I had essentially failed in achieving all the goals I had set up for myself, and it put me in a place of deep grieving and pain where I questioned the point of doing anything if all of it were to expire anyway.
I considered suicide because I had lost the hope of living a happy life, and a major mistake I had made was I had allowed success to get to my head to the point where I could not comprehend failure. I had also deified the goals I was pursuing as “the absolute” – it was intense and obsessive idealism and romanticism but without the resilience to tolerate failure.
So I recall writing about the pros and cons of suicide. I had “avoided” the thought that kept coming up for nearly a year, because I was so afraid of the idea of dying, that it festered and grew into a monumental giant in my mind that refused to go away. Death was terrifying to me, yet my mind kept bringing whispers of suicide into my mind because I was in so much pain and unable to truly confront the consideration of taking my own life, mainly out of intense fear and a stubborn “will to live”.
The thing is, I had first thought of suicide and death when I was twelve years old. I recall mentioning it because I was unhappy at the time, and teachers had panicked about what I was saying. They thought I needed help, and after seeing so many people be so shocked, upset and frightened by the thoughts I had, I promised myself I’d not think about that again for the rest of my life. I thought it was a “bad” thing, but it was really just my curiosity of life and meaning. I had always been curious and always wondered about existence – and that inevitably led me down the path to philosophy.
But I digress. The reality was that it was a doomed promise, and that promise to myself, alongside dealing with catastrophic loss in my own life, led to a doubling up of failure and shame – I had failed to achieve the goals I had set for myself, and had failed to keep the promise I made for myself when I was younger – that I wouldn’t think about or consider death and suicide.
And after nearly a year of these kinds of thoughts going through my mind and my desperate search for a solution to “free” myself of them, I finally sat down and bluntly told myself to consider the pros and cons of killing myself. I took it seriously, I stopped caring about the brevity of the topic, and simply wrote.
So I wrote, and I faced the reality of dying, laying out what that entails and what problems it would solve.
I discovered it solved nothing, because it killed the solver. I also started to discover what I would miss out on if I killed myself. I recognized the finality of death, while simultaneously putting values into perspective. I stopped “hoping” for a better life, and started looking at how to make my life the way I wanted it.
That was the last day I had legitimate suicidal thoughts, and it was the first day where I was angry and defiant towards death. I realized that if I were to kill myself, I’d simply be giving death an express delivery of my soul, and my feeling towards that was to spit in its face and tell it to fuck off, because I wanted to live.
And that is, ultimately, my message in this essay. I think that confronting death is vital, because it reminds you of your fragility, your humanity, and most importantly the fiery resilience you have in you. Dying to me is almost an insult to life, as it essentially makes claim to your life and tells you that you can’t live.
And while death is an inevitability, I refuse to allow it to drive my life in directions I do not want to go in, and I refuse to live risk and conflict free in order to avoid the risk of it.
I spit in its face, live according to my values, and I live.
I hope you begin your rebellion against death too, and truly learn to value your life for what it is. Go live.