February 24, 2004

I Swear I'm Not Depressed

Happy Tuesday. Letís talk about death, shall we? Blame Anne. She brought it up.

Since I turned 30, Iíve noticed a growing awareness of my own mortality. And letís stick to Ďawarenessí and avoid throwing around the f-word (fear) for a second. We all know from a relatively early age that weíre going to die, kick the bucket, sleep the big sleep, push up daisies, lie six feet under. As Robyn Hitchcock once sang, ďGod finds you naked and he leaves you dying/what happens in between is up to you.Ē So, itís a foregone conclusion. Weíre here for a limited time only, no guarantees. But if we were all fixated on that fact, weíd either never get anything done or do better things with our time.

Letís take this morning Ė I woke up, threw on pants, shirt and a tie. I made sure my shoes looked shined and my hair was in decent shape. I got in my car and drove to work and started a day in which, at best, Iíd get a few things crossed off my to do list. Thatís pretty much the way it goes for everyone. But letís say that I woke up with a keen awareness that I was going to inevitably die at some point. The day would probably unfold one of two ways:

Keen Awareness of Impending Death Scenario One:
I wake up and realize that I will someday die. Oh shit Iím going to die so why am I even bothering to get out of bed because, really, its all for not and I could sit in traffic and shuffle papers and talk with phony coworkers and drive home in traffic and get myself ready to do the same exact thing tomorrow but it really wouldnít mean shit because, bottom line really, Iím going to die anyway and what kind of legacy does that leave what accomplishments have I made and what have I contributed to society when Iíve just been doing the same old shit day after day. So Iíll just stay in bed.

Keen Awareness of Impending Death Scenario Two:
Good morning, Iím going to die sometime. Maybe not until some distant future but it could be just around the corner. Anyhoo, I might as well do something good with my time while Iím here. So, Iíll quit my job and work for every non-profit organization I can find. Iíll feed the poor, shelter the homeless, teach the children, pull the hookers off the street, get teens off drugs, change the fundamental political structure of our country so the haves and the have-nots arenít quite as disparate. Iíll prevent drilling for oil in Alaska, Iíll cut pollution, Iíll patch the ozone layer and Iíll breed bald eagles in my basement to replenish the population. And then, sometime after dinner, Iíll fix the educational system, bridge the digital divide, increase the number of jobs available and adjust the healthcare system so that it takes care of everyone who needs it. Then Iíll just go to bed and start over again tomorrowÖto make sure I didnít miss anything.

Do you see what happens? A Keen Awareness of Impending Death really pushes us in one of two different directions, to one of two extremes. I think this is why we donít think of this everyday. It would make life a little tough to take.

Iíve recently read a few books, some fiction, some non-fiction, in which people die horrible deaths from cancer or AIDS. Its freaked me out to the point at which I realize that Iíve been staring at the black and white lines of text without really absorbing anything theyíre saying. Instead, Iím thinking, ďfuck, I donít want to go like that.Ē And I donít. But really, I donít want to go at all. So, like everyone, I banish the thought to the recesses of my brain where its only likely to surface every once in a long while. And I go on with my life. Or try.

The truth is, I donít like the prospect of getting old. I donít like the idea of waking up one morning and not recognizing my wife. I donít really care for the idea of pain and I certainly donít want to put anyone out by making them worry about me. At the same time, through all these thoughts, I realize that I am indeed going to go. I donít know how and I donít know when but I worry about what I leave behind. What will people remember about me? What will I have accomplished? Will I leave some great novel in my wake? Will I leave behind an album, initially dismissed but critically acclaimed after my death? Will I have 40 cats and be remembered as Crazy Cat Man?

I think all of us do many things to ensure that, just maybe, someone remembers us. When we were moving from Houston to the Washington DC area, I remember etching my name into a few bricks in the house I grew up in. I wanted to make sure someone knew Iíd been there, that thereíd been someone else whoíd led a life there, someone whoíd drunk too much when their parents were out of town, whoíd shot hoops at the rusting basketball hoop, whoíd learned to swim in the backyard pool, whoíd snuck out that bedroom window to smokeÖwhoíd grown up.

Iíve rambled on enough about this. Iím not sure what the point was or if it even makes sense. And contrary to the subject matter, Iím not especially bummed out. The bottom line is this Ė we canít live each and every day as if it were our last. Weíd go nuts with the continual realization that weíre going to, at some point, die. But we can live our lives with compassion and respect both for ourselves and those around us.

Posted by Chris at February 24, 2004 10:50 AM

Isn't it amazing all the things that you think about when you really stop and ponder your mortality. Fear grips me like a vice and I start worrying I'm not going to be able to do all the things I want to do in my lifetime and what a waste I'm making of my life because I'm stuck at a job that isn't fun to come to and I'm not helping anybody and what if I don't ever get to see the Greek Isles and what if and what if and what if...

You're right, you could go crazy if you thought too much about it. Hell, with our mindsets, we're even more susceptible to letting things spin out of control. Don't even get me on the subject of "What is nothing?" Talk about freaking myself out.

Posted by: Kristi at February 24, 2004 11:00 AM

The aging process scares me. I try not to think of it because I panic. Especially when I see what my grandparents are going through... man. The only thing that frightens me more is the thought of eternity... ::shudder::

Posted by: yvonne at February 24, 2004 11:02 AM

Unlike Yvonne, I think I'm perfectly content to think about eternity ;) I'm easily amused, so I'm convinced I could easily spend eternity here on earth, just poking around and enjoying myself to pieces.

And I think everyone has that "I was here" kind of mentality in some ways...whether by putting your name in bricks all the way to having children. Both of which I plan on doing (but that could be me talking through my baby kick this week).

Posted by: Anne at February 24, 2004 12:05 PM

Your Impending Death Scenario Number Two brought to mind the following Violent Femmes song:


Posted by: Lisa at February 24, 2004 12:49 PM

** Deep release of breath **

Well said, Mr. Cactus. I don't think you need to be depressed in order to contemplate things like this. It just means that you care about your life and (understandably) how it ends up and how people are going to remember you down the road.

Posted by: Zandria at February 24, 2004 12:52 PM

Every since I turned 27 a few months ago I've thought about death, not just the passing "whoa I'm going to die one day" thoughts. Nope, at my age I am afraid, I have an unhealthy fear, I think about it every day. Maybe it has something to do with me losing my Dad and step-dad the way that I did. I don't know.
I think part of my fear is the not knowing what happens when and after you die. I've went so far as to leave instructions that I am to be cremated when I do, because what if when I die for some reason my sprit or 'soul' doesn't leave my body and I'm stuck there knowing that I am dead and in a box. No thanks.
I know this is all quite odd, lol.

Posted by: Theresa at February 24, 2004 1:33 PM

Heh I didn't need to turn 30 to start thinking about my mortality. From as young as I can remember my biggest fear has been death and getting old. My mum says I used to wake my parents up at night crying "I don't want to die".

The only time I really worry about it excessively is when I'm driving around people tailgating me at 70mph or some similar asshat behind the wheel risking my life.

Posted by: pie at February 24, 2004 2:33 PM


Posted by: Christine at February 24, 2004 9:34 PM

Death freaks me out. I just am terrified by the entire concept. I have to work at not letting it consume me. Once it's in my head, though, it's hard to push it out again.

So thanks a lot Chris.

I'm really hoping for the eternity option (except for the overcrowdedness issue).

Actually, what I'm really hoping is that someday it just hits me that it's ok to die and also that my sense of faith will become strong enough that I really will believe that I'd be going to a better place.

Man...and to think that two minutes ago I was posting about Madden '04 over at DewNut's place.

(deep breath)

OK...I'm going to think happy thoughts and watch Will & Grace.

Posted by: Joe at February 25, 2004 12:25 AM

While you are saving the eagles, could you please add horney toads to that list? I mean I haven't seen a horney toad in ages. I'm so worried about them.

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