We know that people die. We know that we will not be here forever. Even as children, there is some small spark of realization there amongst the hormones and the ever present drama that tells us that our time will come, too. On the big screen, our heroes sometimes don’t make it out alive. We may find our cat stiffening in the street one day, a small trickle of blood drying on it’s whiskers, and we see right there that life is temporary. And maybe one day a beloved grandparent is suddenly not there: the first terrible sign that it might be impossible to hold onto the things we cherish most.
Even so, after all that, we still refuse to believe it. Death happens to other people. We know we won’t live forever, it would be stupid to believe that, evidence to contrary is all around us, but still…other people die. Not us. Not you and me.
A dear friend of mine just passed. That’s what got me to thinking about all this stuff. I mean, I’m on the downhill side of life. The years I have left will not match the years I’ve already lived. My friend Dave, his death was not unexpected. He had been battling cancer for a few years. His easy laugh never left him, even after his bouts with chemo. But even Dave’s indomitable will to live the life he had was no match for the reaper, who took him anyway. We all thought it was too soon, I’m sure Dave thought so too, but in the end it didn’t matter how we felt.
As a child the thought of my own death frightened me. I wondered, what will happen when I close my eyes and can’t wake up? As I got older I realized it wasn’t the thought of my passing that frightened me so much as the anticipation of what might be waiting for me afterward. Having laid that particular fear to rest a long time ago (which at some point might or might not be the subject of another essay), my only anxiety now rests with leaving my loved ones with that empty space where I used to be. Even that angst grows weaker as my mortality, now a mere speck on the horizon, creeps inevitably closer, bringing with it the peace that only comes with the realization that I am no different than the untold billions who have gone before me and who will go after me. It’s a threshold over which we must all pass and which none of us can avoid. It’s the last lesson I will teach my children, that acceptance is not surrender, and that death is the natural culmination of a life fully realized.
So the specter of death does not haunt me like it did when I was young: to fear it is to fear life itself, for we can’t have one without the other.
My friend Dave and I talked about this very thing once, about how we would one day meet our obligatory doom head on and without fear.
“Of course,” said Dave with his gravelly chuckle, “We’ll see how badass we are when the time comes.”
I’m sure death trembled when he finally knocked on Dave’s door, because Dave went out the same way he lived.
Like a badass.