Why I Try to Think About Death Everyday
NOTE: I recognize the immense privilege in being able to choose to think about death, instead of it weighing over my head because of my race, socioeconomic status or other aspects of my identity. It also isn’t my intention to be insensitive to those who have had/currently have suicidal thoughts and/or have committed suicide. I’m aware that death can be seen vastly differently by each and every individual. I intend to shed light on one such way that might add value to someone’s life, and sincerely apologize if I come across as being inconsiderate of others’ experiences.
Throughout my 19 years on this planet, I would say that I haven’t given death much thought. I’m fortunate enough to say that as a child, death wasn’t a significant part of my life; I spent my days shooting hoops with my friends until the sun set, running through sprinklers with renewed excitement each time, and combing through each and every book I could get my hands on. My innocence was preserved to the point that I likely didn’t even realize that there would come a time when I wouldn’t wake up.
Over the past few years, I’ve become attuned to thinking beyond the next day or the next week. It probably has to do with becoming a young adult and feeling like I’m making decisions that will determine what the rest of my life looks like (which isn’t actually true).
So I began thinking further — but in my opinion, not far enough. That changed when I read a Reddit post by a 24-year-old individual who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and was fully aware that they were going to die in a matter of months. Feeling like they hadn’t done anything impactful with their time, they didn’t see the purpose of their existence. They decided to share the tips and insight of a dying human being with the world, in the hope that they could feel like they had been of value during their time on this planet.
I can’t explain exactly why, but it had a profound impact on me. I think it has to do with coming across it during a time when I had completely lost a sense of motivation or passion. I had never felt more confused about the value of my existence. It put things into perspective for me, because I had become complacent and accepting of the life I had — a life I felt was out of my control — even though I knew it didn’t feel right. It became something I could put off and think about later. But could I really “put it off”, when “it” was my life?
As young adults, we feel like we’re the most invincible people on the planet. No amount of sleep deprivation, junk food or partying can bring us down. But it’s fine, because we’re told that our whole life is ahead of us — that we have time to figure things out.
What if we don’t?
Life expectancy is one thing. Life is another. It becomes terrifyingly easy to take things for granted living the life I live in a country like Canada, but the thing we take for granted the most is, in fact, what is most precious: time. Death knows no race, class or creed. And yet, going about our comfortable lives, we continue to live as if tomorrow will come. And the day after that. And the week after that. And the year after that.
So I began to wonder why we don’t really think about death. At least, think about it seriously and beyond our claims of “actually dying” during exams or a bout of laughter. I think I found my own answer to that question in an interview between Larry King and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. When asked about death and why he doesn’t fear dying, Neil said:
“It is the knowledge that I die that brings focus to my life…I fear living a life where I could have accomplished something and I didn’t. That’s what I fear. I don’t fear death.”
There’s no doubt that the concept of death can be terrifying. But as Neil says, what’s more terrifying to me is having lived a life that wasn’t truly mine — one that was determined by my regrets and shortcomings instead of my attempts and successes.
That is why I strive to think of death every day of my life. To use it as the greatest source of inner drive and strength. To become the truest form of myself. It is at that point that the tables turn, and I have control over death (in a figurative sense) rather than it having control over me. It is at that point that I become comfortable with the concept of dying, because I wake up every day working towards the truest expression of myself. That is what I consider success. That is what I consider living. That is what it means to be truly invincible — not to escape death, but to be able to embrace it with open arms when the time comes.
I challenge you to take a moment to pause and reflect on your life. In this moment, what is it you hope to accomplish? What mark do you wish to leave on the planet and its people? For me, it meant putting in the effort and working up the courage to write and share my first blog post. I’m not suggesting that you need to have it all figured out today, but make it your goal to actively seek and work towards that truest expression of yourself. Because while death is the most certain part of each and every one of our lives, the most uncertain part is when it’ll happen. And when the time comes — as a 24-year-old with a terminal illness once said — “let your life be shaped by decisions you made, not by the ones you didn’t.”
I wish you all the best in that journey.
Thanks so much for reading! I would love to hear about your point of view on the topic of death. If you like what you read, feel free to check out my other posts and follow me.