I wasn’t sure I would ever write about this but after a few decades I realized that’s the point of the story.
When I was 15, I received a phone call that would change how I viewed being alive. On a beautifully monotonous sunny summer day, I was outside with friends doing nothing worth a mention. Not a care in the world. Some of the best moments of life are those so dully blissful you would never remember them otherwise.
We would pop in and out of our apartments like feral badgers to get water, food, and cool off for a moment before heading back into the wild. On one such water trip, a family member casually mentioned getting a phone call. A friend of a parent had died, there might be a funeral, and maybe I would want to go. Details at this point were murky. I vividly remember an internal monologue about why should I care about some old people? Old people died. Who cares? I had no interest in going to a funeral. There were more important things on my schedule like sitting outside and doing nothing. Life was for me or any perception of it, casually predictable.
When the next phone call came in, it was for me. Again, old people died. Not close friends barely in their 20s at least I thought, until that call. For most of us, death is something distant – a future event that happens at the “end”. End of how we roughly sketch our lives to look like from an early age. I went to the funeral confused as I slowly came to the realization that our existence begins and ends randomly.
This death was not a grand assassination like in the Godfather or some heroic sacrifice to save people from a burning building. Hey, we all draw our stories differently. Maybe yours is in a rocking chair surrounded by loved ones or running through a tomato garden chasing grand kids. But I’m afraid to tell you we don’t get to write the final chapter.
An accident. The details are unimportant but that’s the mundane of it. People cried at the funeral. In Islamic tradition you’re placed in a white sheet and buried. You can see the outline of the body under the cloth as people carry you to a hole in the ground. It is not glamorous or spiritual nor is it special. I wish it were but that day I learned it won’t be when I die. Or when you die. It happens and then you become a series of biological processes until eventually, there’s nothing left to decay. The end.
You don’t get to control that part of the story but if you’re one of the lucky ones – you have some control over the middle parts. Since that day, I have told myself I might die today, every morning. Because dying is not something we’re guaranteed at age 80 or 90 and I’m sure even then, I’ll want a few more years. Ceasing to exist can happen at any moment and for any number of stupid reasons.
Some people are so scared of dying that it prevents them from living. Any day could be our last and I try to remember that as much as I can. There have been stretches I’ve forgotten that fact and it’s often when I’m least happy. So, I try to live and do and see as much as I can while I’m here and capable. (Make no mistake though, I’m quite apt at focusing on self-indulgence at the expense of more important things like people – hey, we’re all a work in progress.)
Speaking of people, be kind to them and understand where they come from. Don’t be mean, bring people up, don’t put them down. Make a small positive impact on someone they might pass along to someone else. It’s how I honor my friend – by doing all the things she didn’t get to do and living the lessons I didn’t know I was learning. I never got to say how much of a big sister she was to me. I was shy and nerdy (not much change there) but learned to be bolder and make little adventures where you can. Enjoy life. Like I said, small positive impacts.
When I die, nobody should come to the funeral and be able to say he didn’t have a good life. Feel free to use my skull as a soccer ball for all I care. There should be a party for me and I hope for you too. A party to say that you, despite all the bullshit the world throws at you – and there is a heaping galactic ton of it – were able to make the most of existence.
Your life may stop at 22, 43, or who knows when. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, just how absurd this all is. You are here and then you are not. An infinite amount of time passed before you were born and much longer will pass after you die. So if you are fortunate enough to be here for a while with the rest of us, have fun when possible. Make little adventures where you can. If all of history can pass and every atom since then bumping into one another can lead you to reading this, if that infinitesimally small collection of events got you here? Well, then you shouldn’t think anything you can dream up is impossible.
I once read about a culture who believes you don’t die as long as you’re remembered in the memories of other people. So strive to have a long existence. Life is contagious. Live it and it shares itself with others.