Death and Fear
Ok, so my name isn’t really Death, but seeing that word conjures up a whole range of emotions within us. You may be wondering why I’m talking about death as we begin a new year. One word. Liberation.
Most of us don’t like thinking about death and all people face it differently. Some face it with great courage, some become cowards when faced with the inevitable. Some accept it as the natural end process of life, others try to cheat it at any cost. For many, death is a constant weight bearing down on them as they face war, disease, poverty, famine, incurable medical conditions, etc. For the other many, death is a distant and ambiguous concept meant to be ignored. The questions I wish to ask are: How does the concept of death affect your life? Do you even know? Are you afraid to ask yourself?
Death and Fear go hand in hand and many of us don’t even know how these two forces are acting upon every action in our lives. Many of us think we are living free lives, but many of our actions are dictated by survival necessity against looming physical harm which can lead to death, or fear of not leaving a legacy behind, or the ultimate irony of fearing not having lived at all a fulfilling life. Let me simplify this down into a relatable example.
Take the simple act of paying rent. Why do we do it? Sure there is the fairness of exchange involved: I pay you a reasonable value for providing a home for me (assuming you’re not in some ludicrous housing market like San Francisco or New York). Besides that, why do we do it? At the most basic level it’s because we fear not having a home which can lead to physical and mental sickness which can lead to death. So for the unfortunate many, they get stuck in unfulfilling jobs, day in and day out in order to make ends meet and pay rent, among other expenses. Most don’t ever consider other possibilities, such as building their own home or living a more nomadic lifestyle in an RV or van, free from the demands of someone else’s rent. Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. Not only do we fear being homeless, but another prevailing question we ask ourselves is: If I don’t pay rent, where will all my stuff go?
You know what I’m talking about. Our huge screen tvs, massive furniture, our gazillion tchotchkis and gadgets we’ve accumulated over time that we just can’t seem to let go. Funnily enough, all of these things have something to do with the fear of death. Perhaps our material things aren’t related to physical death, but they are related to a conceptual social death. We compare our lives to others and covet what others have and it becomes an endless competition to accumulate the best things in comparison to others. Now, understand, I’m not saying all of us do this, but a majority do if not on a subconscious level. Which model phone do you have? What neighborhood do you live in? What school do your kids go to? What type of car do you drive? Where did you go to vacation this year? How are your kids doing in school? What do you do for work? ad nauseam. All of these questions are in competition with others to prove social worth…social life. The fear of not keeping up is the fear of social death.
But what if we freed ourselves from all of that? What if our actions weren’t governed by the fear of physical or conceptual death? What kind of world would that be like?
Here’s a thought experiment to think about:
If you lived in a society that had a self-imposed life cap of 55 or 60 years, how would you live your life knowing your exact expiration date?
And, no, you can’t cheat on this experiment by saying you would leave that society or say you refuse to participate. This is a thought experiment, so you must put yourself into a different mindset from your existing reality.
I won’t expand on all the criteria on how this hypothetical society would arrive at this rule or how they would govern it, but I will tell you my story. When I was 15 years old I decided that in order to challenge myself to be the best that I can be I would need to limit any potential thoughts of living forever and put a life cap on myself. I arrived at the age of 55 as an endpoint for myself. I’m not going to say that I have perfected my life or even lived an inexorable life. However, I can say definitively that I have lived a fearless life. I have, quite literally, faced death more times than I can count on my fingers. I have nearly died from anaphylactic shock due to a nut allergy, I have nearly died from electrocution when I put a pair of tweezers in an electrical outlet, I have nearly died when I had a chopstick stabbed deep into my throat, I have nearly died when I tumbled down a rocky hill after crashing from a high speed tricycle ride down a hill, I have nearly died from a skateboarding accident when I hit a rock and landed beneath a rolling truck with my head under its front wheel, I have nearly died surfing big waves and almost drowned, I have nearly died from being shot at about a dozen or so times when I fell in with the wrong crowd as a kid, I have nearly died when my friend crashed his car on the side of Highway 17 and almost took us off the mountain side, I have nearly died when a propane tanker nearly crashed into us after stopping on the side of Highway 17, I have died many small deaths as I have reinvented myself over the years against the advice of those around me. I haven’t allowed any fear to get in the way of my pursuits and passions even if they may lead to an early death. If I physically died today, then so be it. If I die a social death and become, in a fashion, excommunicated from my social circles, so be it. I will always find a way to push forward despite all obstacles that society wishes to impinge on me. I only know what I wish to do and that is to live so free that my very existence is an act of rebellion. I can thank the french philosopher Albert Camus for that. His immortal words:
“In order to live in an unfree world, you must live so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Those words, among numerous others by great minds, have continuously helped to shape and define me. When I think upon those words one of the conclusions I must arrive at is to waylay my fear of all death. The truth is, we can die at any moment and we don’t know what lays beyond physical death. I don’t care what any near-death experiencers say or religious concepts there are. I don’t even care what scientists may or may not prove. What I do know is that death may be the grandest adventure, yet. Or, perhaps it really is just a switch that kills the light. Either way, I will live without the fear of the unknown end and meet it when I meet it. That is liberation. Being comfortable knowing that you cannot know all of the unknowable. Being comfortable with the answers that you seek are the very questions themselves. Being comfortable living a life free from fear.
So, I invite you to perform this thought experiment on yourself and see what you find deep inside of you. You may be surprised at what you may be willing to do to break the bonds of your fear of death.
I leave you with some other immortal words written on the tombstone of Nikos Kazantzakis:
“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”
– Liberated Rabbit
P.S. For those who wonder if I truly will end my life at the age of 55. I can only say: We shall see.