I consider the inevitability of my own death a lot.
Too much, probably, for a healthy 25-year-old born into a stable, safe first-world country.
I have no reason to think that I’ll die an early death – no illnesses or pre-existing health conditions, or fondnesses for particularly risky activities – but that’s the thing: no one ever really has a reason to think that they’ll die “before their time.”
The young souls who die instantly in a car crash or freak accident, or who are killed by violence or overdose or other unnatural causes – most of them never saw it coming, and – depending on what you believe happens to a person after death – they may never even have the chance to know about their untimely fate.
They may never have the opportunity to mourn their own early death, because well, it’ll all be over before they can even comprehend what has happened.
As you may have guessed, I don’t believe in life after death. I want to – probably more than I’ve ever wanted anything – but I just can’t.
What’s more, in many ways life after death scares me just as much as the alternative. No matter how I look at it, death is fucking terrifying.
If there’s a heaven, then that means after we die we go there and spend AN ETERNITY there. My mind can’t even begin to comprehend that quantity of time. Not a hundred years, not a thousand years, not a million or billion or a trillion years, not a trillion times a trillion years…an eternity, with no end in sight. What is there to look forward to? What is there to be motivated by? What’s the point? Is there growth, or just endless existence?
Or if reincarnation is true, then that means in my next life I will have no memory of this life – none of my accomplishments, or friends or family, or the love of my life, or even my own name. Would I also forget my personality, my passions, my hopes and dreams? Would I fully lose myself in order to become a brand new person? And if so, how many times have I done that already, over the course of human existence? How many lives and loved ones – just as real and important as the present ones – have I forgotten? For me, the thought is as terrifying as it is heartbreaking.
If there’s some unknown “great beyond,” where souls gather and float together in the cosmos, this too scares me, because I’m far too attached to who I am here and now. I want to be ME, today, tomorrow, and always. Sure, it sounds nice in some ways, to know that my spirit will never die because it’s always a part of something greater, but that thought also makes me mourn the loss of my individuality, and the individuality of all those I’ve ever known.
And what if there is simply nothing? What if when I die, my heart simply stops beating, my blood stops flowing, my brain stops functioning, my body loses its heat, and eventually all traces of my body disappear from the earth altogether. I’ll never exist again. I won’t travel into some infinite black nothingness; I simply won’t be.
I won’t ever think, wonder, feel, love, or exist ever again. I’ll just be a dead organism, and if I’m lucky, a memory. My one chance at conscious existence will be done…forever. For eternity, for infinity. Trillions of years will pass, and my chance of returning to consciousness won’t be any greater.
All of these options scare me beyond description. It’s hard for my brain to even process the pure primal terror I feel when I allow myself to think, “I won’t exist one day, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
But more than that, it’s heartbreaking. It’s soul-crushing to think that this could be my one and only chance to experience this beautiful, wonderful, mystifying, dazzling existence.
It truly breaks my heart into a billion tiny pieces to think that there will come a day when I will never be able to look into my sweet husbands wonderful eyes ever again, or speak to my parents or sisters. To know that I will leave behind loved ones that will mourn me, and that I’ll never have the opportunity to comfort them, or to even know about their suffering – because I won’t exist.
It quite literally hurts me at my core when I think about how badly I wish to change things…but I can’t. No one can. We’re all powerless against time, mortality, and death.
At other times, I think about how absolutely, incredibly fortunate I am to even have the chance to exist in the first place.
To have been born into a world where turquoise seas, airplanes, mountain ranges, chocolate brownies, Netflix and Harry Potter books exist.
To have been born into a body that grants me nearly infinite privileges.
To have found someone that I love so deeply so early in my life, to share this existence side by side with.
To have parents and sisters who love me, despite all of the crazy shit our family has been through together.
To have traveled to so many incredible places in the world, and to have seen sights in Asia, Europe, South and Central and North America that I never thought I would see.
To know what it means to feel happiness, hope, inspiration, love, gratitude, and peace.
To know what it means to feel at all.
And even the pain – the tears, the anger, the anxiety – in the end, it always serves to put the good times into perspective. The happiness only feels sweeter when it follows pain, and for that reason, I’m glad to have experienced both.
I’m glad to know the taste of wonderful foods like chocolate chip cookie dough, Thai red curry, iced caramel macchiatos, buffalo chicken dip, lobster, and fresh bread with butter.
I’m glad to know the feeling of a cool body of water on a hot day, a thick blanket on a cold night, a soft t-shirt, a meaningful hug, and a refreshing sip of water when I’m thirsty.
I’m glad to know what it’s like to play a video game, read a book, climb a mountain, ride a rollercoaster, scuba dive, laugh, smile, and remember.
I’m glad to know what it’s like to love and be loved.
And as I reflect on the things that I’m grateful for, the thought comes to me: How can I say it’s unfair for me to live and die in this body, this life, when so many people who have lived on this earth only had a fraction of the opportunities to experience the wonders and beauty of the world as me?
How can I say that my one shot at conscious existence is unfair, when I close my eyes and imagine a girl my age living a world away in a third world country, who truly knows what it means to be hungry or afraid, and who hasn’t experienced even a third of the luxuries that I have?
How can I say that my one shot at conscious existence is unfair when I think about all of the billions of humans who existed in time periods long before me – time periods without cars and restaurants and TV and medicine and the basic comforts I take for granted?
If I’m forced to cease my conscious existence one day, against my will, then so is every other person who has ever lived and who will ever live.
It’s one of the core things that all human beings – all biological beings, actually – have in common.
We will all die, just as we were all born. My experience, my terror, my reluctance for it to all be over – it’s not unique to me. I share it with every human that will ever exist. I share it with Abraham Lincoln, Cleopatra, Barack Obama, Beyoncé, the cast of my favorite TV shows, the people driving the cars that I see outside my apartment window. We all share mortality; we all share temporary existence.
And as far as temporary existence goes, I have to admit that I feel quite blessed to have ended up with the existence that I have. In fact, these days this very thought is at the core of all my thoughts and decisions and experiences. Everything I do, I do with that knowledge in mind.
And that means that I strive to forgive, to trust, to take chances, to understand, to learn, to love, and most of all to spend as much time as I can feeling happy – because centuries from now, it won’t matter a spec whether I was happy or sad or angry – it only matters to me, here and now, while I’m still around to make that choice and experience it.
So, happy it is.
It’s cliché, but it’s true – our time on earth is a blessing and a gift. Maybe what makes it so sweet and special is the fact that no matter what we do, it can’t and won’t last forever. It deserves to be savored and cherished and appreciated.
I love being alive.
I love thinking and feeling and wondering and experiencing, and I wish – down to my core – that I could continue thinking and feeling and wondering and experiencing for eternity. And above all, I wish I could know right now whether or not my wish has a chance of coming true.
But I can’t know. I’m not any more special than any other soul that has ever existed, and none of us can know.
It’s the greatest mystery of all time.
But I do know this.
I have experienced heaven. Heaven is Sunday morning, under the covers, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, looking into my husband’s eyes and seeing his love shining back at me, feeling my own love exploding out of my heart, and knowing that we can lie there all day if we so choose.
I have experienced rebirth. Rebirth is living a life darkened by depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and substance abuse, slowly but surely turning things around, and coming out the other side as a happy, whole person.
And I have experienced non-existence. I experienced it for approximately 13.7 billion years before I was born.
I don’t know how much time I have on earth, or how that time will come to an end, or what will happen to my soul – if such a thing even exists – after that. But none of that is for me to decide or worry about.
As someone very wise once said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”