I Think About My Death Every Day Because It’s the Only Thing That Matters
Several years ago, I was sitting at a bar (remember those?) chatting with a few good friends. My fingers were closed around a tall glass of dark-ale beer, condensation dripping across the back of my hand. I could feel myself growing pleasantly tipsy.
As always, I was inspired by the small head change, and I began to steer the conversation down a philosophical road—a predictable track for my constantly existential state of mind. Before long, we were chatting about one of my favorite subjects: death.
As we chatted, I noted the different responses from each of my friends. One grew visibly uncomfortable and ceased to contribute to the conversation—he admitted that he didn’t like giving it much thought because the idea scared him. My other two friends, both religious, engaged actively in the discourse, stating that they felt relatively neutral toward the inevitability of death. I piped up, stating that I think about it often. Even in my tipsy state, I’ll never forget my friend’s response: “so you’re a legacy, person, huh?”
A “Legacy Person”
The question echoed in my mind for the rest of the evening, and I’ve given it much thought over the years. Am I a “legacy person” because I think of my death often? What the hell is a “legacy person?”
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am, in fact, a legacy person—just not in the way that I initially thought. I don’t constantly think about what I’m going to leave behind after my death. Whether it’s a massive financial fortune, a very used ’05 Honda Civic, or a grainstore of random thoughts pasted all over the internet, the *physical imprint I leave behind is largely immaterial to me (*not to be confused with concerns about my carbon footprint).
What I consider to be “my legacy” is my moment-to-moment interactions with others. Having lost friends and family to death and other life events over the years, I have come to realize that even if someone isn’t present with you, the memories of your time together live on infinitely. It is this legacy, one of memories, laughter, affection and shared wisdom that I am constantly striving to cultivate.
Why Death Matters
Plenty of other people strive to live in the present moment and connect deeply with others, and to my knowledge, they don’t need to be motivated by their eventual demise to do so. So why do I?
The shorter the supply, the more valuable the commodity.
The way I see it, life is in short supply. It goes by quickly, and it ends quickly—and unexpectedly. That makes it extremely valuable, and what is valuable must be treated accordingly.
Knowing that I have this valuable, ever-present moment to spend wisely, I am far more motivated to tend to my personal frustrations and struggles lovingly and efficiently so that I have an overflow of love constantly available to share with others. Additionally, I am more motivated to sow my time into endeavors that are deeply meaningful to me. The constant awareness of death has helped me make navigate and execute difficult career changes, educational opportunities, relationships, and other pivotal life decisions with a lot less fear than I feel I would have otherwise.
Remembering that death can visit me at any time reminds me that life is to be lived courageously and boldly, and in authentic accordance to my heart’s deepest desires.
Time moves suspiciously quickly and cannot be relied upon as a guarantee.
Longevity and good health seem to run in my family, but I have never considered them to be a guarantee of the time I have available to me.
In my own experience, time is very suspicious—when I used to work in a cubicle and discuss mutual funds with financial advisors and investors, eight hours felt like 15 hours. Now when I enter a flow state during writing, eight hours feels more like 15 minutes. Therefore, I don’t trust time and perception of time to provide any sense of completion or accomplishment if I have the good fortune of living to an older age.
Instead, I rely on the promise of death as an incentive to spend the time available to me in ways that feel expansive, growth-inducing, and loving. My general rule of thumb is this: “would I be happy if I died doing this?”
I’m dead already.
Building on the concept of time as an illusion (or highly malleable in its perception), I’ve had many experiences where I feel like I am speaking to my future dead-self.
When I consider the inevitability of death, it is relatively easy for me to “tap into” what I imagine the dead version of myself would tell me—almost as if I am channeling my future ghost. The consistent sentiment I receive is, “you’re dead already—unless you choose to do the things that give you life.” When I think of life and death in this way, choosing life-giving, joyful activities becomes non-negotiable.
The opportunity for life is available as long as I’m alive.
Even when we sleep, we have the ability to dream.
Similarly, even when life feels full of struggle and obstacles (which it has, especially recently), I am reminded that as long as I am alive, I have the ability to change directions, processes, routines, and thoughts.
Knowing that death is a destination that I haven’t yet reached allows an incredible amount of freedom for change. If death hasn’t touched me yet, that means I have this moment—this precious moment—to do anything I desire. The amount of times this revelation has given me hope are too numerous to count.
Death Every Day
So, what’s it like to think about death every day?
Like a raven landing briefly on my shoulder, I am reminded as I make my usual micro-decisions about how to structure and conduct my day that every second is precious.
Each interaction with a family member, friend, or stranger, every word I write, and even the things I do that are unseen by others are an echo throughout infinity. Every moment is my legacy, and remembering that my time here is finite gifts me with the precious motivation to continue living to my highest standard.
I hope that when death does visit me to relieve me of my duties, I will be able to take its hand with grace, knowing that my time was consciously and loving spent. Until then, I will continue striving to be the best possible steward of this glorious, fleeting experience of life that I’ve been given.