Friday, August 5, 2011

Who Wants to Live Forever

Something non-political for a change of pace...

As some of you know, I was quite sick a few months ago (and if you didn't, surprise!). To make a long story short, an intestinal tear combined with severe malnutrition hit me in early April and I nearly died. From a probability perspective I probably should be dead once one factors in the cascade of system disruptions and near failures that hit my body the first 10 days I was in the hospital.  But (spoiler alert) I didn't, and I actually recovered and got out of the hospital a lot faster than doctors were expecting me too.

Getting out and back to life, I've had so many family and friends comment on 'how terrifying' it must have been for me to be near death and 'how lucky' I was.  Hearing all this I realize how perhaps the only person in my sphere of family/friends/acquaintances who didn't see the possibility of death as something to be feared was me.  Before I continue I should note the following: I am not suicidal/have a death wish, I'm not depressed, and while my sense of humor occasionally goes into the morbid territory death is not something I obsess over.  That said, I don't see death or the inevitability of dying as anything to fear or shirk away from.

When I reflect on these past few months I see terror, but not from the thought of dying.  The terror was not being able to walk for weeks, having to relearn that and simple tasks like putting on shoes and dressing myself, the sheer exhaustion of 20 minutes of exertion trying to learn those things, and looking down and seeing a skeleton (my weight through all this bottomed out at 130.8 lbs, or 80 less than I weighed before entering the hospital). Living life without the physical or mental capability to achieve the goals I have for myself in this life was the terrifying part.  Watching time go by from a hospital bed and knowing the countless opportunities that slid away was depressing and terrifying.  And, for a person as deathly afraid (pun intended) of needles as I am, the constant parade of IVs, blood tests, and medication injections was continually terrifying.  All of those things were terrifying then and now, but not the specter of the Grim Reaper.  Death isn't something one can avoid or opt-out of, and if one believes in an afterlife as I do then temporal death is not the end of the existence.  So why should I have been terrified of it?

Ronald Reagan's high school yearbook quote was "Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music." He was right: life is a wonderful experience full of highs and lows, triumphs and failures, love and loss.  But I would argue that it is death that makes life the wonder that it is.  Knowing that our time on this world is finite compels the spirit to achieve and make the most of what we can while we can.  If you knew that your life would be endless on Earth, there would be no voice in your head driving you onward.  There'd be no reason to reach for the sky: after all it would be there for you forever.  The drive to leave a legacy would be non-existent, the desire to have children to carry on one's lineage would be moot, and so many other aspects of life would lose their meaning.

I don't really think much about death, but when I do it's these thoughts that tend to dominate the thought process.  I didn't fear death when it was smiling at me and I don't fear it today.  All I know is that the omnipresent specter of one's physical end that exists for all of us helps compel me forward in life to seek out the goals I have for myself.  That so many around me saw death as this great terrifying thing still proves a little bewildering to me.  I am glad to be alive and to have more time to leave the legacy on this world that I wish to leave, but when the bell tolls for me I won't walk into that light with fear but instead with wonder and curiosity for what lies beyond.

No comments:

Post a Comment