The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. —Mark Twain
Looking at the headlines this morning was a bit depressing. Golfing great Arnold Palmer died at age 87. Miami Marlin’s ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. Mylan Hicks, currently a defensive back in the Canadian Football League and formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, was killed in a Calgary nightclub shooting. While I had no personal connection with any of them, I certainly respect their accomplishments and the impact their deaths have on their respective sports. We’ve mentioned multiple times that this is being a lousy year, but the past couple of weeks have been especially brutal it seems. Two friends have lost their fathers in the past two weeks. Other friends have lost childhood playmates way too early in their lives.
Death surrounds us all the time. We are subconsciously aware of that fact, but there are times when it seems to get too close for comfort. When we see so many die around us we start to feel uncomfortable. Dealing with the reality of our own mortality is not easy. No one really wants to die, especially not right now. Yet, there are so many ways in which death can sneak up and take us unexpectedly.
China lost control of a space station and it could crash into a US city. Imagine driving to work one morning and a chunk of space station falls out of the clear blue sky and you die. This is the reality in which we now live.
Mitigating The Risk
Before walking the dog each morning, I’m careful to check the weather. Regardless of what the forecast might have said the night before, weather has a nasty habit of changing. This morning, there were storms in the area. Lightning struck less than a mile away. So, we watched radar and timed our walk to minimize the risk of getting fried on the sidewalk. That wouldn’t be a good way to start the morning.
We know the potential for dying is out there. We all have those preventative actions we take to mitigate the risk that we might die on any given day. Eating veggies is one of those things we know pushes death out a little bit. Same goes for driving safely and crossing the street at the crosswalk with the light. Most people try to not do stupid things that have a high-risk factor for ending up dead. Even when doing something silly like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, we take the precaution of using a reasonably good parachute packed by someone we trust.
Yet, no matter how many precautions we might take, death sometimes has a way of finding us at the least expected and most inconvenient moments. Be sure, Jose Fernandez didn’t think the risks were too great when he got on that boat. None of us see all the risks. No matter what we do, sometimes death just shows up and says, “Hey, you’re coming with me now.” We don’t get any choice in the matter.
Being Ready To Die
If all the recent deaths around me have done anything, they have reminded me that I need to go ahead and get some kind of burial insurance. Sounds morbid, doesn’t it? Yet, all of my experience tells me it’s a smart move. My parents had burial insurance. They bought it when they were in their 30s. They were able to pre-pay for their funerals, including the caskets, so that when that time inevitably came for them my brother and I didn’t have to worry about the cost or wondering what they might have wanted. That act alone was one of the kindest things they ever did. When you have a parent die, the details of paying for and planning a funeral are not where you want to spend your time.
There’s something about actually making such a purchase, though, that feels uncomfortable, as though we’re tempting fate. In my mind, I know that my parents lived another 40 years after pre-paying for their arrangements. Yet, there’s this nagging feeling that if I take the same precaution it’s like thumbing my nose at death, taunting it to come and get me. The same applies to life insurance. Both make the lives of our families so much easier, especially if our death is unexpected. Still, there’s no getting around that icky feeling that if you make that purchase you’re tempting fate.
Being ready to die is as much an attitude as anything, though. We have to be comfortable with death, okay with the concept of no longer existing in this world. I no longer think that we need to know what happens next. If we were meant to know the universe would provide a reliable, believable way of telling us. It hasn’t. We’ve made up our own myths over the millions of years, but when we get down to it, we have to be okay with just going. Period. Let whatever comes next, if anything, take care of itself.
Remembering to Live
Like the Mark Twain quote at the top of this page, being satisfied with our life makes it easier to be okay with the inevitability of death. No one should obsess over their own death; it’s not only unhealthy, it prevents one from making the most of life. I’m not talking about being happy, mind you. Happiness is a temporal state and in that moment when some jackass cuts you off in traffic “happy” isn’t exactly the emotion one feels at the time. Rather, contentedness is more what I’m going for; that sense that my life isn’t perfect and I’m okay with that.
Are we content? I’m not, not really. There are still things I want to be doing, not bucket list things like winning a Pulitzer and such, but everyday things such as finding the next great supermodel and teaching my youngest son to drive and regaining some fluency in French and Italian. I have in my mind a level of activity that I’ve let slip. Having been there once, I know it can be achieved. I let go, though. I want that contentedness back.
What about you? If a chunk of that Chinese space station were to fall on you today (don’t worry, it won’t … yet) you’d certainly be disappointed that you didn’t have more warning, but would you be content with where your life is right now? What would it take to get you to that point in your life?
I fully expect to live long enough to be a pain in the ass to my grandchildren, assuming at least one of my sons gets around to providing some. I’m not expecting to die.
But then, not many people ever are. Perhaps we all need to do better prep work. Try to not die today, okay? I think our quota is full for the rest of the year.