You Should Think About Dying

image - Peter Kaminski
image – Peter Kaminski

This might sound suicidal, or morbid – or pathetic, lonely, sad, or confused. But it’s not. I’m not. I actually find it kind of comforting.

I’ve been thinking about death. A lot. I’m 26…and I know that’s not exactly normal.

But it’s good.

And when I say I’ve been thinking about death a lot; I mean I’ve been thinking about dying a lot. Like me…dying. Ben Liebing – dead. Deceased. Departed. Defunct. Liquidated. Check out. Pushing up daisies. Six feet under. Kicked the bucket. Inanimate. No more. Inert. Reposed. Resting in peace. Bit the dust. Immobilized. Shit-canned. Bereft of life.

Done. Finished.

Yikes.

I remember the first time I actually was impressed by death. Not impressed as in “whoa, that’s cool,” but impressed as in, the thought actually made a lasting stamp upon my psyche. It was when Dale Earnhardt died.

You know those snippets of memory – we each get maybe a handful’s worth in a lifetime – where you can remember everything about something, exactly? You can close your eyes and see it, and feel it; exactly how her hair smelled, exactly where you were, exactly what your best friend said…exactly. The exact pattern of the exact dress she wore on the exact day of the exact year, at exactly 8:20 pm.

That’s how it was for me when Earnhardt died. And it had nothing to do with NASCAR. I actually hate NASCAR. Like I actually avoid watching it, think it a lesser sport (if it even is a sport), think less of people who watch it (with a few exceptions), and think that a bunch of rednecks getting drunk in the infield and screaming at cars looping around the same exact track roughly 160 times in a row, is basically the definition of redundancy, and therefore insanity – but I digress.

What I remember is being in a hotel room. On family vacation, and we were watching ESPN. And there was an interview with a bunch of other NASCAR drivers, basically eulogizing Dale and giving their perspective on the dangers of the sport – and then one driver said something I’ve never forgotten.

“Hey, when your ticket’s punched, your ticket’s punched man. And that’s it…and there’s nothing you can do about it. I learned to live and race with that early on…and…yeah…” He shrugged his shoulders and faded out.

When your ticket’s punched, your ticket’s punched.

Tautology aside, I found the statement incredibly profound. Talking in the face of death, in lieu of a death, this guy just stated a fact, unafraid. He was cool and resigned to it. Death didn’t scare him because he treated it as any other fact. It just was.

I’ve been thinking about death lately a lot in the mornings. Particularly on Monday mornings. And while I think it has something to do with the fact that my current employment sometimes seems a fate worse than chugging charcoal fluid in hell, the persistent thought doesn’t make me feel morbid, or even sad.

It makes me thoughtful, investigative – and even happy.

Weird, I know.

But what I mean is this: recognizing an end – the end – makes me wide awake to…everything before the end. That is, life. Recognizing that I could be at any moment dispatched from this mortal coil serves as an apt reminder that what I am doing now…REALLY MATTERS. My finite life is of infinite importance. I don’t believe that we’re merely bodies. I’m irrevocably convinced of a soul.

I’m convinced of a soul because I’m convinced that I’m perpetually discontent. Not unhappy. Not sad. Discontent. A subliminal uneasiness. The feeling, as David Foster Wallace put it, “of having had and lost some infinite thing.”

What grips me most is how anomalous ending are. They’re unnatural. An ending is heinous, bizarre. An ending is a big fat Hunter S. Thompson bastard break in a cycle that was, seemingly, never meant to be interrupted. Think about it. You’re always a little bit sad when a movie ends – well, a good one. People linger and loiter on the street outside the restaurant because…the night shouldn’t be over…not just yet – something about it doesn’t feel right. It feels off. Meetings at work are the only things that really should have endings but paradoxically, as if God is playing one gigantic joke in the time-space continuum, seem damn near eternal.

It’s why saying goodbye and breaking up are two of the most emotionally scarring pains we know. There is something almost unbelievable about saying goodbye – about a relationship reaching a point of finality; about love having no more object of its affection. About saying to a person, “I’m not going to know you anymore.” You can forget what you ate for dinner last night, but forgetting her? Or him? Never.

We were never meant to say goodbye. We were never meant to never see someone ever again. Saying goodbye to a good friend is just…it’s almost irreconcilable. What are you supposed to do with it, with the relationship – with the residue of this person’s hopes and dreams and love and quirks all just lingering there?

Thinking about death is little more than thinking about an end. The end. And I think that if you think about it rightly, the end won’t scare you – or at least it won’t be terrifying. Death is a reminder that there is a lingering anomaly in life. It makes living more meaningful and the end more hopeful. We were never meant to say goodbye. We were never meant to end. I think that, someday, we won’t. TC mark

image – Peter Kaminski

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