You'll Die Someday Anyway
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
Sometimes I think about how easy it would be to die. Usually, it's when I'm somewhere or doing something that could be dangerous. Standing at the edge of a cliff, say, or riding my motorcycle, or taking an Advil. One Advil is fine, but a bottle? not so much. If you really think about it, it's kind of amazing to wake up in the morning and be alive. There are infinite ways to die-CBS actually compiled a list of the top 56 ways Americans die, which include but are not limited to: childbirth, accidental firing of a gun, death by police, fires, drowning, all of the cancers, heart attacks, smoking, homicide, accidental suffocation, obesity, aneurysms, pneumonia, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, accidental falls, motor vehicle accidents, blood poisoning, inflammation of the liver, accidental poisonings (including overdoses), and diabetes.
Ever since exiting recovery from my eating disorder, I've thought about dying more than (probably) the average person. At my intake, a doctor told me, with a serious face and tired eyes, "You can either choose to get better, or you'll eventually die." I never intended to die, so I figured I may as well try to get better, not knowing what that would entail. Turns out, getting better didn't happen overnight, or even over hundreds of nights. There were moments when I thought, "what's the point?" moments when I felt finally, blissfully free, and moments I was so frustrated I wanted to scream.
We come close to death all the time-the moment you swerve out of the way of an oncoming car in heavy traffic. The moment you nearly fall, but catch yourself before hurling into a ditch. The moment you felt as if you might just drown before being pulled above the water's surface. The moment you fall over from a heart attack and wake up in a hospital bed because someone was there to call 911. There is an urban legend that 150 people die each year from falling coconuts. Sometimes, we're just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I guess my point is that death could happen to any of us, at any time. We all know this, at least subconsciously, but it's easy to forget that our lives could come to a screeching halt at any moment. It's difficult too, to remember to be grateful all the small things that comprise a life. And it's incredibly easy to downplay the loss of life that isn't our own, or that of someone we love.
In the United States, 197,000 people have died from COVID-19. Worldwide, that number is close to a million. Here in Orange County, over 1,100 people have lost their lives. I'm not saying this to reinforce mask-wearing or lock down measures. I'm not convinced a lock down should still be in place. I'm saying this to emphasize that the death count is not small. One life matters if that life mattered to you, and it does no good to wax poetical about the small ratio of deaths. Death is tragic even if it might seem preventable. Even if the person wanted to die. But death is also lovely, in a way, because without death there could be no life. There could be no regeneration.
When I was very sick with my eating disorder, I was terrified of so many things. I was terrified that my body would betray me and balloon to impossible proportions. I was terrified that no one would accept me, that I wouldn't be "good enough" at school or work or life or whatever. I barely trusted myself. Being confronted with the prospect of death gave me a fresh perspective, which is this: why the fuck not? Why not do the thing that seems scary? You'll die someday anyway. Why not take risks? Why not tell someone how much you care about them? Why not start a business? Why not travel the world, if that's what you want, or write a book or adopt a million dogs or do whatever it is that seems stupid or impossible. If you fail, you'll die someday anyway.
I recently bought a motorcycle; a 2017 Kawasaki Zsport pro, with 125cc. I grew comfortable on that and sold it, trading it for a 2003 Ninja ZX-6R ABS, with 636cc. Learning to ride my motorcycle was uncomfortable and, for a minute, kind of frustrating. Everyone who found out I was learning had the same warning for me, "Be careful! It's not you I'm worried about, it's everyone else" followed up with a fun anecdote about someone they knew who was hurt or killed in a motorcycle crash. I know it is dangerous to ride a motorcycle. It's also dangerous to drive a car, or run through the mountains, or eat too much hard cheese. Now, it's considered dangerous to be closer than six feet away from another living person. I would argue that it's more dangerous to live in fear of dying. To avoid uncomfortable or scary endeavors. To let yourself rest safely on your laurels until you eventually shrivel up and rot.
Helen Keller said that, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” I haven't been alive all that long, and I'm nowhere near as wise as Helen, but I have a hunch that she's right.