The other day an older friend and mentor of mine went shopping with me. Half way through our trip, she mentioned how annoyed she was with all of the crop tops and oversized t-shirts that had messages of “live fast, die young” or “young, wild, and free” plastered all over them. Out of habit I responded that messages like these are just trends or music lyrics. As we continued shopping, I couldn’t stop thinking about how honest my friend was about these messages. Every day we go through our Twitter feed or scroll through Tumblr inspired by quotes and sayings that tell us that living a fast, wild life and dying young is completely normal. Like many other young people, I have lost good friends to car accidents and drug overdoses. But I just thought that was how life operated. That some of us are luckier than others when it comes to death and that, “at least they had fun when they were still here.”
In one of my communication classes, my professor talked about how early cultures and civilizations constantly thought about death. Ancient Egyptians planned their deaths all their lives by building tombs. Early American colonists lived out of constant fear that they could die from an upcoming winter. Today teenagers associate death with a grandparent or famous celebrity who took too many drugs. But what about their own lives? Why don’t young people think about death? In his class, my professor told us that to older Americans, death and their funeral become something that they constantly think about. He said once he hit his forties, his life was less about living, but more about the story he was going to leave when he died. I thought, “God, I can’t remember the last time I thought about the story I’m going to leave, much less what I’m going to wear to tonight’s party.” How ridiculous is that? Why are we constantly thinking about the “fast” life we should be living when we really should think about how “fast” death could hit when we are living?
When I was eight, my older brother died at twenty in an unexpected car crash. I was shocked. This was my first encounter with death in my family and I couldn’t believe how it could happen to someone so young and so close to me. Processing death at such a young age was hard, but it also engrained in me another way of thinking about death. Guess what? Death comes fast. Out of nowhere. It will happen to everyone: a parent, a best friend, or even a sibling. Death will happen to you and you won’t be able to control it. It’s wild; unexpected.
Living a life in constant fear of death is not healthy. But I don’t think that means that we should block it out of our minds completely. I have been to a funeral of someone who lived fast and died young. It is awful. It wasn’t reassuring to know that they lived their life young, wild, and free. Friends and relatives of this person spoke about how much more life they had to live. How sad it was that their life went by so quickly. The following week, these same people went back to living fast, wild lives, making bad choices and laughing about them the next day. Should we be laughing? Or should we realize that living fast and dying young isn’t as romantic as our culture sells it?