It’s not your worst enemy
The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.
~ Achilles (Brad Pitt in Troy)
We all have friends that tell us what we want to hear. They validate our feelings and pat us on the back. We feel great after seeing them, yet they don’t often help to move our lives forward.
If we’re lucky, we also have a best friend that listens to us and empathizes with us, and when we ask for her advice she doesn’t simply tell us what we want to hear. She thoughtfully and compassionately provides her perspective on the situation.
Has one of your best friends ever said something to you that was hard, even hurtful, to hear? My best friend once told me I sounded arrogant when disagreeing with people. Naturally, I was furious and hurt, but (very!) slowly it began to dawn on me that she was right and that I needed to hear her words to move my life forward.
Some truths are hard to hear and we naturally tend to avoid them. But, there is one truth in particular that we tend to avoid more than any other: we are all going to die.
I have spent much of my life avoiding the topic of death because I thought that thinking about it was morbid and counterproductive.
Don’t get me wrong, I would never have denied the fact that all humans eventually die, but there’s a huge difference between knowing this intellectually and reflecting on what this fact meant for my day to day life.
There is a lot of comfort to be taken in pretending that our lives, and the lives of those we love, will endure indefinitely. The problem is that in our search for comfort, we come to deny or (at the very least) ignore a fundamental reality of existence.
To put this into perspective, the Earth has born witness to the lives of one hundred billion humans, and each and every one of them was born, lived, and then died. Their lifetimes were not even blinks in the lifetime of the Earth, yet each of them experienced as rich and vivid a life as you and I are right now.
There is a great disconnect in our minds between knowing we are mortal and wanting or hoping to be immortal. In our ignorance, we feel content to live in the middle ground where we neither truly accept nor truly deny the reality of death.
Ignorance is bliss, they say.
The problem is, Death is not something any of us can avoid. At least, not for long. It’s completely and utterly outside of our control when and where we will encounter Death. Death can come at any time to anyone. And the bliss we might feel by avoiding Death is shattered by its sudden and inevitable appearance in our lives.
Besides, how could it possibly be healthy to create a chasm in our minds between our desire to be immortal and our knowledge that we are not?
If avoiding Death will lead us only to misery and suffering, the wiser choice must be to invite Death into our lives.
What if Death is not the terrifying reaper of victims that we take it to be? What if, just like your best friend, Death is simply trying to communicate a hard truth?
Only once we accept the nature of reality can we stop wanting the impossible. And only by stopping wanting the impossible can we begin to see the world as it is.
Death is the only thing that really puts life into perspective. While we are in denial of Death we get caught up in the mundane and arbitrary as if they truly mattered. But, when we are free of this denial, our world changes.
Inviting death into our lives destroys the delusion that we have infinite time to accomplish our dreams or fix our mistakes. When we operate from an understanding that our time is short, we find that we no longer have an excuse to ignore what truly matters, and we suddenly have a reason to act today, instead of waiting for the proverbial tomorrow.
There is no doubt that operationalizing the concept of death in our lives is difficult. Most of us have been conditioned since the day we were born to avoid thinking and talking about death. It will begin as a seed and grow slowly from there. But only if you plant it. And there are so many reasons to plant it.
In the face of certain and unavoidable death, it no longer matters so much what people think of you; it no longer matters so much if you fail; it no longer matters so much if you are embarrassed; it no longer matters so much that you are breaking away from your friends’, your family’s, or society’s expectations.
In the face of certain and unavoidable death, your love, compassion, and joy spring forth because time is too precious for anything else, while your fears, hate, and insecurities shrink into obscurity. Once you understand in your heart that we all are literally waiting on Death’s doorstep, you see immediately what is trivial and what is worthwhile.
But, Death is not merely waiting inside to open the door for you when it’s your time. Death is there with you every step of your journey, urging you to choose the actions that will cause you to have a better tomorrow.
Death is the constant reminder that we only live once, that what we do today matters, and that we must live life to its fullest before it is simply too late.
Just like Brad Pitt’s Achilles said, this moment will never come again, yet it is also the only thing we are guaranteed. And that is precisely what makes it beautiful.
Without Death on our minds, we cannot hope to see the urgency with which this is true.
Without Death on our minds, we are like the gods, taking every moment for granted.
And this is why Death is our best friend: Death pleads with us to accept a difficult and uncomfortable truth, knowing that only by doing so may we truly live.