Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the power that death can have in our lives and the immense positive impact that it can have on the daily routine of almost any person.
In the least morbid way possible, I find myself thinking about death in order to cheer myself up in the midst of stress or unwitting frustration. I think about death when I’m working and everything seems to be completely out of my control; I think about death while I wander through the monotonous aisles of the grocery store scanning for whatever it is that I might need; I think about death while I wash my hair in the shower. Every time I do, I feel better, it’s as if I am reminding myself that my life is so much more full at the present moment than I was just giving it credit for. And I celebrate it.
This pattern of thought stemmed about a year ago based on an interview that I listened to from a podcast that I love for its interesting long-form conversation. Sam Harris had invited a man named Frank Ostaseski onto his show to discuss death as a topic. The introductory six minutes of this podcast were beautiful and terrifying for me to say the least. Beautiful because they instilled a previously unknown sense of hope for the probable impact of my life and terrifying because that hope came with a feeling of almost palpable responsibility. This realization that recognition of death could be spun into a powerful positive tool made me feel responsible to share this idea with others, though I have come to realize that it’s not so simple.
In the Western world, we tend to view death as something akin to weakness or illness. We do our best to lock it up, take it as far away from ourselves as possible. Those close to death are often dealt with by professionals so that we laymen don’t have to deal with it. Once people pass, we don’t let their bodies alone either. We dress them up, preserve them with fluids and present them at ceremonies inside beautiful boxes that are then buried deep beneath the ground so as to show no evidence of decay. It’s almost as if they aren’t dead, merely sleeping for a very long time. Death, in many ways, is feared as well as covered with numerous false veneers in order to keep the living feeling ‘comfortable.’ We live as if we will never die and when we die we pretend it’s not a huge deal and move on.
However, death is the great equalizer. It is such an amazing thing to remember that everyone will die. Eventually, everyone currently alive at the moment you are reading this word right here will die. This is a fact, and the most wonderful thing is that once that fact is embraced as the truth that it really is instead of being shut away inside nursing homes and dressed up in overly expensive caskets, it can be one of the most freeing and inspiring facts to cross one’s mind. If we can learn to view death less through the lens of “Oh man, I don’t know if there’s an afterlife but I hope there is because I don’t wanna die.” or “I’ll be a good person in this life because that way I’ll be rewarded in the next life.” and more through the lens of “This is my chance to do this thing that I want to do and I can’t go back so I should do it.” or “Wow, I’m really frustrated right now but I literally could die whenever so is [insert situation] really worth worrying about?” then we can start to really seize our opportunities as they arise.
I know that this may all sound somewhat morbid. You’re shaking your head and mumbling ‘yes, Bryson, this is effed up.’ but let me simply say, it’s not morbid at all. Morbid by definition is an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects such as death, etc. This interest of mine, this practice that I’m hoping you take into consideration, may be somewhat abnormal but it is the farthest thing from unhealthy. It has inspired me to live aspects of my life that I was too anxious to pursue before. Now I’m not talking like massive life changes, no. I’m simply talking about the willingness to take more risks and forgive more easily, to let go of petty stresses and frustrations and to realize that loving deeply in the moment is incredibly important.
I frequently give myself a little test by asking myself if I died right now would there be things that I would have wanted to say to people that I care about. If the answer is yes then I simply do my best to say those things right away because there is absolutely no sense in keeping those thoughts of love or care to myself.
I sincerely hope that this blurb has been, at the very least, informative in some capacity to you and I wish you the very best as you continue on in your life. Do what you will, but do no harm.
Bryson W. Hatfield