Death Becomes Us
My academic advisor recently asked me what I envision myself doing in five years. It's an interesting and annoying question. I don't think I've ever had a clear vision at any point in my life of where I would like to be in five years. In many ways I feel like I fly through life by the seat of my pants - though I always seem to have some major project going on. I don't really think of a career as being a goal. (That probably explains why I am an unemployed student writing a blog that nobody reads.) When I think of my life beyond the day-to-day stuff, I think of the big picture -- the really big picture. What will my life have meant when it's over? So then the question becomes - what is my goal for my life, and how can I get closer to that during the next five years? Lately I feel like I'm running out of time. Age has a way of doing that to a person -- we do die you know.
I can remember as a child discovering that I was going to die. I was truly perplexed and disturbed! It was unfathomable to me, and I was absolutely certain that it couldn't be true. I remember thinking immediately about what I could do to leave a mark so that people in the future will know that I was here. It wasn't about vanity; it was just that I felt like I had some value -- something beyond matter -- something that mattered. I didn't want to waste away like a flower or a tree branch having had no real significance, and I had a strong sense that my life had a deep meaning and real purpose.
The definition of death is: "The end of life; the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism." I am an organism that will eventually stop working and being. I will wither and die, and my body will decompose and parts of its remains will be utilized in other systems. It's scientifically fascinating really, but we somehow innately know as human beings that there is more to us than that. I knew it as a young child -- nobody told me -- I had a very strong natural awareness of that. The problem is that we feel a sense of entitlement to life. We forget (or don't even consider) that we didn't have to be born. Each and every day is a gift that was given to us. If we are given any other material gift that eventually stops working, we don't curse the day we were given it! We are usually grateful to the giver of the gift and for the time we were able to use it.
It is interesting how shocked we are when people die. It's like we've been duped! People have been dying since the beginning of time. It's the only real guaranty that we have. Yet it disturbs and even angers us - as if we deserve better. And though it's inevitable, we often prefer not to think about it or discuss it. It's too morbid. I myself find it fascinating, and I believe we live our best lives in the constant light/awareness of death. As John Oxenham said: "For death begins with life's first breath - And life begins at touch of death." Contrary to that idea, we tend to live our lives as if they are infinite, and when we discover death is impending, we are shocked, angry, and we begin to either think of all the things we could have done or we begin doing things we want to do before we die.
So, where do I envision myself in five years? Well, a villa in Tuscany sounds nice, but would that really matter? I envision myself still seeking, asking, knocking, hoping, reaching out, and struggling to rise above and beyond the organism that is me. I'll let you know if I ever reach my goal. How about you?
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