I’ve had death on my mind a lot lately. It all started last month, when I commemorated the anniversary of my dog’s passing with writing about the impact her death had on my decision to pursue life full-on.
In the days and weeks that followed, I felt myself constantly reminded of my own mortality, from that incident in New York where a man’s wife got diagnosed with (and, eventually, died of) cancer, to an ad I saw one night, at my friend Kim’s, for the Showtime end-of-life documentary series Time of Death, to fleeting (but frequent) dreams about every single person I love dying.
Last Monday, as I careened 1,000 feet over an Andean canyon, kept alive only by a couple hundred dollars worth of zip-line equipment and the careful work of an engineer who obviously knew his shit, thoughts of the wire snapping, my harness breaking and the brakes at the end of the taut cable failing all crossed my mind. But in my heart of hearts, none of them scared me.
I am dying. Not, so far as I know, in the immediate future. But day by day, the eventual end of my time on this planet draws closer, and although that particular moment remains my greatest source or fear and anxiety, I find myself less concerned, the longer I live, with avoiding situations that might hasten its arrival.
I find myself focused on doing, rather than thinking, speculating, wishing, worrying or wondering, although I do still engage in all those activities a fair bit. I find myself, not surprisingly, focused on travel.
But more than simply roaming the globe aimlessly (although I am often aimless as I roam), a goal that supersedes my desire to fill my passport for the third time is my desire to live my life in as fearless a manner as possible.
In March, for example, I flew to Las Vegas and spent a week driving across California with a man I’d only just met and about whom I knew essentially nothing, except that (A) I was prepared to give him my heart and (B) he would probably break it.
I flew west anyway, and put entire heart into it, and although it hurt more than anything when he finally did stomp all over it, as people who are given stewardship of a human heart usually do, the pain I felt served as undeniable evidence that bloody organ was still beating.
Three months later, I flew west again, this time extremely far west (east?) to Sri Lanka. I’d always wanted to visit Sri Lanka – I’d booked a trip there in 2012 – but the fear the person I was supposed to go with had of the venomous snakes that apparently live there had made me afraid, too.
I didn’t end up seeing a single snake in Sri Lanka, but even if I had – hell, even if I’d been bitten or hospitalized – I’d have felt glad I confronted my fear and made the trip. The beautiful experience I had in Sri Lanka definitely would’ve been worth a snake bite or two!
My July jaunt to Québec, my summer stints in Europe and Israel and my just-finished trip to Ecuador have all born countless more examples of the huge truth traveling has revealed to me: It is not so much death, but the idea of dying never having lived, that terrifies me.
You are dying, probably in a very similar manner to me: Slowly, gradually and with an expiration date and time you won’t know until much closer to your final breath than now. You’re dying but thankfully, you’re still alive.
How are you going to make the rest of your life count?