The space between life and death
Last week I was driving through Vermont to deliver a speech for a group of international development students. It had snowed earlier in the day, but only enough to gently coat the trees and the side of the road. Along the way, I passed the most beautiful cemetery. I pulled over and walked around. It had been over a decade since I voluntarily walked around a cemetery.
I was moved by the snowcapped tombstones. Some were from the 1800’s. Others marked the burial of people who had been alive for less than ten years.
Amidst the beauty and the history I was moved by the idea that all of this ends.
Every single life will end. Most of us will live for a few decades. Some of us will die before we see our second birthday. But regardless of how long life lasts, it ends. It has ended for the billions of people before us, and it will end for the billions of people after us
In a matter of about 150 years, every single person who ever met me will be dead, and I will remain only in the shared memories passed among the friends and family who knew me, before eventually we are all, not only dead, but forgotten.
Nothing I have written here is truly surprising but inevitably, it’s terrifying. As humans we have a terrible privilege: we are aware of our own death.
Everyone we have ever loved, everyone we will ever know, everyone who ever loved or hated us will all slip away into the abyss.
To escape the terror of our own impending death, we fill our lives and societies with numbing agents – television, alcohol, complacent mediocrity, wasted time on the internet, conspicuous consumption, poorly used time, and other forms of subtle self-loathing.
We learn to look without truly ever seeing because to see our world would mean understanding that everything with form vanishes, all suffering is shared suffering, and that it is not our isolation we fear, but our connection. To truly see, can be terrifying.
And eventually, as we spend more and more time hiding from our true nature, we become numb.
The numbness takes over and we hide more and more of ourselves, our dreams, our desires our visions. We lose our humanity. Instead of behaving like a passionate, engaged, vivacious person, we suspended ourselves tortuously in the space between life and death. The fear of our inevitable death makes it easy to perpetually hide from our true nature.
We must realize that we and everyone we love (or one day may love) will die, that our time here is limited, and that we don’t know what happens next.
When we look our true nature in the eye and shine a bright light on ourselves, the path to life becomes clear. We conquer death by living with passion, and honesty, and shared experience. We live well by loving ourselves, and helping others love too. There is no other way to truly live.