We’re all going to die. But we’re alive right now, right? Let’s start there-- if you’re still reading.
The way we think about Death (with a capital D) is so fascinating. We tend to avoid explaining the concept to children or talking openly about it in most social situations and we rarely acknowledge it, even when it’s in the room. "Everyone knows they're going to die, but nobody believes it." That’s what Tuesdays with Morrie tried to teach us at such a young age.
Before we go any further, I would like to note that grief and Death are two different things. Grief is real. It is heavy, it can change you and you need to take the time and space necessary to heal. So in this conversation, I’d like to avoid conflating the two.
Moving on. If Death is something that happens to everyone, that makes it a universal experience, right? How many truly universal experiences are there? With this in mind, why do we marginalize Death in such a way that creates fear, sadness, and anxiety at it’s mere thought? We isolate the aging population (perhaps because they serve as a grim reminder of our own fate? Just a thought.), we treat those who are grieving like porcelain dolls, and when we talk about it, Aunt Suzie runs to get the snack tray to lighten the mood and change the subject. I’m painting in broad strokes here, but I hope this resonates in some way.
The Torajan people of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia have a practice of living with the bodies of their deceased family members for weeks, months, or even years after their passing, continuing to care for them and maintaining a relationship as they did in life. To them, physical death is nothing at all. I’m not suggesting that you sell your burial plot, but I am asking you to develop an inquiry into your own relationship with Death. Dig deep and entertain how a more comprehensive view might change your quality of life.
Empirically, Death doesn’t need to be sad or scary. Truly coming to terms with the concept can be liberating. Where are we investing our time and energy? What are the things we choose to worry about? What are our priorities and how do they align with how we spend our days? One of my favorite axioms is “how you spend your days is how you spend your life”. When I heard that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. We’ve developed a tendency to encourage ourselves and others to “just get through it,” and we lean into this expression for just about everything-- a stressful week ahead, a workout, Thanksgiving with your in-laws, you name it. Unfortunately, there is always more stuff on the other side for you to “just get through” and we ultimately blind ourselves to today with the promise of tomorrow. When you live your life through the lens of Death, however, it offers a whole new perspective, and allows you to measure your actions against one really big (and inevitable) yard stick.
By donning our Death-colored-glasses, I think several things can happen:
1) It becomes easier to not sweat the small stuff. Who cares? Everyone’s going to die anyway.
2) You can see today with a profound clarity. Right now is the only moment that matters.
3) The roots of your personal relationships can grow more authentically and deeply.
4) We become more compassionate and connected as a society the more we realize the unifying realities that we all share.
5) You are enabled to hear and connect with your calling, or the thing that’s unique to you (more on that to come).
Your time is precious. When we live with Death as a part of us (and not as the monster under the bed), our values shift. You’re still on this journey, in this physical plane, right now. And that’s a beautiful gift. How will you use it?