We Are All Going To Die

The other night, using my cell phone’s handy calculator function, I determined I had 676 months left to live, presuming lung cancer or a man willing to kill me for the unregistered Panera card I have in my pocket don’t drag me to the grave earlier than the average American lifespan would dictate. I’ve had an awareness of my mortality for some time now, albeit a cartoonish one: a perception of life’s finality that those who’ve watched family members waste away in hospital beds might scoff at. I can write the word over and over — death, death, death, death — and it still feels like the sort of thing that’ll happen to some other, distant version of myself, be it when I break to smoke a cigarette between this paragraph and the next or sixty years from now, surrounded by tiny (and, hopefully, less self-indulgent) versions of myself.

So while I might not have the stark perception of my own mortality that leads certain middle-aged men to exchange their cars and wives for newer, flashier models, I can vaguely conceptualize the finish line, and have used this conception as a sort of double-edged motivator. Take for example the hypothetical girl sitting six feet away from me. She’s wearing a Smiths T-shirt, which admittedly could go both ways — the Smiths being one of those bands that, like the Sex Pistols or the Ramones, work as both fashion statement and expression of personal taste. But of course I’ll never know if she’d swap stories about the first time she heard the Queen is Dead (I was 15, in the apartment of an Israeli cokehead and sex shop owner on the Lower East Side; I’d told him I liked Belle and Sebastian) if I don’t approach her and say “Hello my name is Daniel, I am a person, would you like to maybe get coffee sometime?” But there’s that ever-present fear: That she’ll laugh at me, say “That sounds truly awful!,” get her boyfriend to simultaneously make out with her and give me a wedgie, etc.

Which is where that cartoonish awareness of death, that timeless pop song trope, comes in handy. It becomes: You only live once, might as well talk to her. But it also becomes: Who cares if you talk to her, you are going to die. Broadening your perspective to encompass death makes everything in the foreground seem tiny, manageable — but it also means you can see the end, however fuzzy, however slow and unthinkable your progression towards it seems.

In a used bookstore a man I met on the internet told me a Borges quote to the effect of, “Life is too short to waste on books you don’t enjoy.” I can’t seem to find that quote, so it’s possible he made it up. But it makes some sense. Life is also too short to waste not asking strangers on dates, or fulfilling your dreams of owning a grilled cheese shop in Portland, OR, or thinking about how short life is. And maybe if I were more inclined to read actively unenjoyable books I’d have a more nuanced outlook on this whole “not being alive anymore” thing, but every hour spent untangling a particularly dense passage of Nietzsche (who I’ve never read, but who I figure talks about death, right?) is another not spent fulfilling your grilled cheese dreams, you know? TC mark

image – Jorge Luis Borges


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  • http://twitter.com/niceflying Emma

    Cheese dreams are the wildest.

  • http://robinthecradle1.wordpress.com/ Robin

    Wow, love this.  

  • livmusic

    This is great. Thanks for writing something more than the stickily self-indulgent (if entertaining) articles often found on TC.

  • Sophia

    Loved this. I’ve always used the quote “You regret what you don’t do more than what you do.” So go do it! You’ll never know if you don’t try :)

  • Anonymous

    If I wasn’t the most neurotic/freaked out atheist ever, this would be exactly how I felt. Bravo, sir. I loved this so much.

  • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com/ Aja

    So you didn’t ask her out?  I toyed with the idea of not reading this because I thought it would make me feel crummy . . . only to be pleasantly surprised by how uplifting it was! 

  • Angeline

    I love Nietzsche.  :)

    I love this, too.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    Really into this piece; uplifting without getting preachy? Say it ain’t so!

  • Iamsoy

     Oy, wait for that moment where your mind tries to accept, nevertheless conceptualize, the “not living any more concept” and seconds later black out from an anxiety attack. That being said, amidst controlling my mind, I do use my countdown until the end as a motivator. Thanks for sharing, nice to know I’m not the only young person who is unseasonably obsessed with his/her own mortality.

  • http://twitter.com/jennifersussex Jennifer Sussex

    Life is too short to bother with existentialism. 

    • Anonymous

      not true

      • http://twitter.com/jennifersussex Jennifer Sussex

        I request 5 book recommendations that give new perspective on the subject, sir. 

      • Anonymous

        actually i recommend robert c solomon’s series of lectures called “no excuses”. i would check that out, i think you can torrent it. 

  • Emily

    “Broadening your perspective to encompass death makes everything in the foreground seem tiny, manageable ” 

  • iamnotdead

    My friends need to read this. Death is a brilliant motivator but at my age nobody wants to talk about it.

  • http://ellesseserrano.blogspot.com/ Ellesse

    You know when you read something and another something goes off in your head that makes you exclaim “YES” aloud and totally jives with what your ideas/beliefs/conceptions of the world are at that moment? This article just did that for me. Simply goes to show that on a whole, we aren’t so different in what we think about and how we think it. Really good.

  • Anonymous

    we should take classes on understanding and dealing with our eventual death all throughout high school. i think i would have make better choices and dedicated myself to what i really want to do with more focus and intensity rather than just floating along if i had thought about death more.  everything in life, and life itself becomes a choice and it feels freeing, once you realize it’s all temporary and that you could end it now if you wanted.

    • http://intervital.tumblr.com eileen

      you’re right. i think that would definitely improve people’s lives better in some twisted way but yeah, ever since i reflected on my own fleeting life awhile back, i’ve been more daring and adventurous with everything and i can safely say that the quality of my experiences have improved vastly. it definitely is liberating.

  • bernard snowy

    “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.” —Nietzsche

  • Jenna_88

    Actually Nietzsche wrote mostly about life: power of will, eternal return (which is not about reencarnation),  and stuff like that. but it’s ok. :p
    I got a haircut today because I realized that I’m going to die someday and I don’t want to regret it when I’m DYING. I hate it.
     Nice conscious article!

  • Deirdree_lynn

    loved this

  • Anonymous
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