The imminence of my death is something that preoccupies my meandering thoughts on occasion.
As far as I’m aware, I’m a fully healthy, able-bodied 24-year-old male, but relative to the scale of human life expectancy, death is not only soon, but hangs over one’s head like an alarm clock with no snooze button.
This is not so much a fear of death, but a fear of dying without having lived.
Life, as I understand it, is about trying to find the infinite in the infinitesimal since our lives are finite. So we hang on to the smallest moments that would seem insignificant to an outsider. It’s why we populate our social media feeds with selfies and status updates about the exciting (and sometimes minutia) of our lives.
I see it as the innate desire to be seen, to be heard, to want to plant your, “I’m alive,” flag at every conceivable opportunity.
Other generations want to lampoon the silliness of our Facebook-driven lives, but not only are they the ones most likely to send me Farmville or Candy Crush invites, but back in their day, they had their own ways of “planting their flag.”
No, this isn’t another pitting of the past generation vs. the present generation, because every generation shares the commonality of wanting to not die.
Nevertheless, I do, in fact, work with a 74-year-old named Ray. Take his age out of the equation and he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Put his age back into the equation and the previous statement astounds me.
Working with someone exactly 50 years older than me sure stirs up those meanderings about “living.” Where am I going to be in 50 years? What will I have done? What will I have become? Will I have made my, “I’m alive!” flag flutter in the wind a bit stronger than it does now?
If it sounds terribly self-indulgent, well, that’s because it is. After all, I am talking about my life and my could-be life.
I sometimes feel like Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars wherein, like him, I’m preoccupied with wanting to be or do something great. So much so that I often find it paralyzing to the point where I tap out and just browse Reddit.
It’s like I’m an albatross in an elevator unable to unfurl my wings or more pointedly, unwilling because it’s scary. To do as Kurt Vonnegut suggested, and build my wings after I already jumped off the cliff, is a daunting challenge.
As humbling as it is, most of us live average lives, which isn’t a bad thing. A remarkably small number of us get to become Galileo or Shakespeare or Picasso.
Besides, living the so-called average life is an awfully hard business to go about doing and even then, it has its rewards: raising good kids, building a life with a significant other and so on.
I’m not here to say any of the aforementioned aren’t markers of a fulfilling or well-lived life, but my eyes seek something beyond the horizon of conventional. I crave going beyond “what you’re supposed to do.”
Or maybe that’s merely wishful thinking. Maybe I’m actually conforming to the romanticized idea of what a twentysomething is supposed to do. Maybe the next step is to get “carpe diem” tattooed on my forehead.
Despite this imminence of death shadowing my living, I,too, take it for granted. All too often I’ve fallen back on the cushy convenience of, “Tomorrow.” What happens when one day I fall back and there is no tomorrow?
Ray often tells me with that weathered-eyed look only someone that’s done a lot of that living stuff has, “Get out of here. Finish your schooling and get out of here.”
Therein is the struggle. Every day I wake up and do what I’m supposed to do — go to work, go to school, go to work, go to school (for the most part, as I do miss a class here or there) — but there’s a constant tension in my head to “get out.”
Earlier I said I saw myself in Augustus, but it’s more likely that I’m represented by Chris McCandless from Into the Wild. There’s a nagging whimsical desire to shed it all and see if I can develop my wings on the way down or if it’ll just face plant.
It’s something of a need to be tested. To know that I’m not just in an agonizingly slow and passive transition from birth to coffin-filler.
Of course, I don’t mean that as fatalistically as McCandless. I type this under a comfortable brown and white blanket with salsa chip residue on my fingers. I’m not “flying” any time soon. As it is, I’m already settling into tomorrow even though today is still here vying for my attention.
In the end, I’m still a wide-eyed idealist; my eyes not yet weathered by the storm of living, but also not yet able to focus on any one direction, only the long gaze of “out there” and “away from here.”
Surely it will be with much dismay if my epitaph on my digital tombstone reads, “He was another survivor of that living thing.”
For is that not the worst fate of all, to have survived, but not lived?