I don’t feel particularly afraid of dying. Sure, let’s not kid ourselves: When the end actually arrives, everyone’s afraid. There’s nothing we can do about that.
But, for some reason, the prospect of said end drawing nearer doesn’t seem too scary to me. Definitely not as scary as it should for a 29-year-old. Maybe, it’s because in those 29 years, I’ve experienced more of “a good life” than most people ever will.
This was largely due to circumstances out of my control and partially due to the attitude of working hard I finally adopted at the age of 23.
I’m German. I was born into a family of academics. I’m male, white, and my sheltered childhood left little to be desired. I didn’t have to work throughout high school. I didn’t have to work in high school — good grades came easy. I had every material thing a boy could ever wish for, a loving family, and, by the time I was 23, I’d seen more of the world than most people will ever see, including my parents. This level of genetic and circumstantial luck is totally nuts and impossible to discredit. For that alone, if lightning strikes me down tomorrow, I’ll say thanks for the memories and blissfully dissolve.
It took a lot of time and soul searching to realize what a springboard this privileged life of mine really was, but, when I finally did, I vowed I would do my best to use it to jump as high as I can — and pull everyone around me right with me.
I’m human. I have ego. Goals I want to achieve for selfish reasons. In yet another incredible turn of luck though, the best, most efficient way to get everything I want and then some is to help others get what they want. I can use my story to bring positivity, optimism, and a sense of relief to people who didn’t get as much of them as I did growing up.
Since 2014, between five and ten million people have come in touch with my work. I don’t know how many read something I wrote. I don’t know how many felt something when they did. I just know that, if I die tomorrow, I’ll feel good about what I’ve done so far. My financial aspirations are high but not endless. My success as an author depends a lot on luck. I’m good. I’ll get what I want or die trying. And the journey to uplift others in the process never ends. In that one, I’ll definitely die trying. I’ve made my peace with that.
Looking back, I see a rich life. Looking forward, I see a happy future. I know no one can cheat death, but man, what I’ve got feels pretty damn close. There is, however, one aspect of death that I’m completely terrified of. A rule of dying that, even for the luckiest of us, levels the playing field: I’m terrified of dying alone. Not as in “without a partner” but as in “physically alone.”
Of course, we all die alone. The old couple holding hands, falling asleep together one last time, that ending is reserved for the movies. Real life is messy. Who knows how, when, and where you’ll go out? No one. Absolutely no one. And since no one knows, there’s a non-zero chance that, in fact, no one will be there when you do.
Will I have time to neatly line up my goodbyes next to my hospital bed? Will I have the strength to write a long farewell letter? Maybe I’ll just cough twice, roll over on my side — and that’s it. No nurses around. No family member holding my hand. I don’t wanna leave like this. Can I please not leave like this? Of course, none of us have a say. At least we’re all equal in that.
Then again, even if you’re surrounded by loved ones, you’ll still die alone. Crossing that last bridge over the Jordan is a trip you’ll make by yourself. What will you think? What will you see? Is it a moment of panic or one of utter peace? As interesting as these questions are, none of us want to find out the answers.
I’m not sure there’s a lesson here beyond “you’re not alone with this fear,” but if there was, here is my guess: A good life is self-contained. It does not regret. It does not envy. It does not desire, but it also does not wait.
A good life answers these questions before death asks them. A good life happens today. Inside yourself, you’ll find everything you need. If your past is filled with trouble, make time to resolve it and find peace. If your future is worrisome, realign yourself so the goal you want is the finish line you can see.
All of this is a matter of perspective. You can’t change it all at once, but each day, you can draw life a little closer to your chest. Chip away at the external and focus on the person inside. Make sure that person is who you want to be.
You might not fall into privilege. You may face hardships, and your future will keep playing out differently than you’ve imagined. Slowly, however — one day at a time — you’ll take back your power. Power from death, power from others, power from what happens — and convert it into power over what you think and feel. You’ll build this inner shrine, a sanctuary of values, and it’ll become an untouchable source of contentment, wholeness, and peace.
Did you do the best you could with what you had today? Did you allow yourself to be enough? Did you try hard to change what’s changeable yet leave what can’t be altered alone? Did you present your best self to other people? Did you not let their actions doubt that you did? When you look in the mirror, do you see someone who makes you smile simply because they exist? Those are the people we need around here. They make others smile as well.
A good life is self-contained. It does not stop, yet it never asks for more. It’s a paradox, I know. But so is being scared of dying alone. It’s the only option we have, the way it’s always been.
Maybe, it’s not the prospect of physical solitude that gets to us. Maybe, it’s what it’ll feel like to be with ourselves in those final moments. After all, there is one person we’ll never leave or lose. Let’s make sure we’re in good company.
I have a hunch that, as long as we do that, we could care less about when they turn off the lights.
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