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You've already died. A lot.
And you're fine. So stop worrying.
Ian says that a relationship is a mirror. There are things you don’t see in yourself until someone is up close and reflecting you back at you. One of those things, for him, was how often he mentioned everyone’s inevitable demise while we were dating. I mean, he did this a lot before we were dating, too. It just wasn’t until we were dating and his little Eeyore self was getting used to being around Tigger-energy me all the time that he really started to notice it. Eventually, every time he mentioned his death, my death, the death of one of our beloved cats, etc., he’d do this elaborate finger tap on his watch face like he was marking his time for an achievement.
“Nine in the morning!” he’d say. “Didn’t even make it to noon.”
I don’t know if I think about death more because of his influence, or because I’m getting older and my doctor had the bitchy cheek to put me on blood pressure and cholesterol meds,or just because death is kind of a neat thing to think about if you look at it right.
I’m currently writing a book in which my protagonist is basically immortal, and living within the experience of someone who doesn’t have to think about their inevitable demise is kind of enlightening.
I mean, I know that most of us try to think about death as little as possible and we dread those moments in the middle of the night when the little gremlin of our inevitable ceasing to exist settles on our chest and gives us a little knock on the forehead, all like, “Hey, you’re totally gonna be dead gone dead someday, it’s really the only thing you know for sure for sure, isn’t that neat?” and our skin crawls and panic rushes through us and then we realize our feet are cold and why do we keep sliding off our socks in our sleep when we know our damn feet are gonna get cold and zzzzzzz… back to sleep we go and forget that our time on this earth is absolutely and without a doubt limited.
And now that I’ve reminded you of your impending death, here’s my paid subscription ask. I mean, what are you gonna do? Take it with you? Besides, I’m about to make you feel better about your inevitable demise. That’s worth $5 a month, right? Plus you get the podcast version and a monthly Q&A letter… I mean, come on. That’s value right there!
So, anyway… where was I?
Oh. Yeah. My immortal protagonist and making you feel better about the fact that you’re super absolutely going to no matter what someday fucking kick it.
Writing a protagonist is like living in someone else’s skin. You have to imagine what the world looks like through their eyes. And the thing about being immortal and having all the problems of the world solved is that it’s well… boring. I mean, you just kind of keep existing but it doesn’t really have any meaning because it all just keeps… going. Forever. And sure, that sounds great until you remember the last time you were standing in line at the post office or sitting in rush hour traffic, moving an inch a minute and going nowhere and it felt like you would be there forever.
Not fun, was it? Forever is decidedly not fun.
Once you get past all the fear of what happens after you die, which is really between you and your god/existential nihilism,you kind of have to hand it to death as a concept. Have I ever talked to you about creative delimitation? How, if you are given a creative task with limited choices—like a writing prompt you have to write exactly as its given—your creative output tends to be both better and more enjoyable?
Isn’t that neat?
What if that’s how it works with life? What if Time Delimitation is what gives our existence its sweetness and meaning, without which it’s just a lot of time passing in rush hour traffic?
I think Michael Scott sums it up pretty well in this deeply philosophical Would You Rather gambit.
Another thing to make you feel better about death is this: You’ve already died.
I mean… kind of. If death is ceasing to exist anymore, then the infant version of yourself is… I’m sorry if this is the first time you’ve heard the news… dead. You are not that baby anymore. You have nothing in common with that baby. You have none of the physical cells of that baby. The only thing you have left of that baby is pictures, because most people have no memory of being an infant.
Same to your toddler self, your elementary school self, your middle school self… I could keep going but you’re clever. You get the pattern. The cells of the body you had 10 years ago are all gone; you are a completely new Ship of Theseus from who you were just a decade ago, so in a way, you are less than 10 years old.
Told you I’d made you feel better.
And yes, these are gentle deaths, invisible deaths, but deaths just the same. Our consciousness was passed through multiple transitions into entirely new physical bodies; why is it so unthinkable to imagine that it exists beyond the physical? Why is it so unimaginable to us that once this group of cells stops doing its job of keeping us alive, we just move on to the next group of cells, the way we would get a new car that dies on the side of the road?
Being unable to remember previous existences, or cars for the sake of extending a mundane metaphor, does seem like a bit of a pickle, but would you want to remember everything? Seems to me this is a feature, not a bug. Starting fresh allows us to release old baggage and have a new, temporary but meaningful experience.
If you were immortal, with all problems solved, and you were able to design how existential experience should work… wouldn’t this be what you would ultimately design? Free will with limited memory, and the ability to make choices for good or evil that will define who we are, for a little while at least?
Only once I looked at it from the perspective of someone given that choice to live in boring immortality or to design a limited existence that’s more fun, more frightening, and more meaningful… I think I’d choose the later.
And I think I did.
And maybe so did you.
In her defense, two months later all my numbers are exactly where they should be. Listen to your doctor.
I mean, my death is kind of neat to think about. The deaths of others sucks and grief sucks and cancer can go fuck itself sideways and we have to do something about climate change right now because capitalism is killing people with the careless recklessness of a Marvel action scene. All that stuff is real and acknowledged, it’s just not what I’m talking about today.
No judgment. I lean toward atheism myself. Welcome to my dark, meaningless existence! We have cupcakes and we only judge you if you don’t recycle.