When I was little, I remember many times when I would start to think about death and what it would really mean to no longer exist as I was existing now, and sometimes the fear would begin to feel like a kind of runaway train. I would hang on because it didn’t feel like I had a choice to let go. But at some point, when the intensity of the thought process grew in such a way that I felt like I was about to be drawn into a kind of black hole of fear that would only collapse on itself, I felt like I had no choice but to let go and somehow scrabble back into the here and now—back into a pretense of continuing to live life as if that feeling of self-annihilation and non-existence and nothingness (I’m suddenly recalling “The Nothing” from The NeverEnding Story) weren’t still crouched right there, just beyond my peripheral vision.
Living through today’s news recalls that feeling of pretense. My LinkedIn feed over the past several weeks has never felt so surreal and absurd, with the trite and the terrifying stacked together.
I remember, too, in middle school, that I also began to consider the unanswerable questions that surely occur to every child at some point. I let them tumble in my mind, polishing them like river rocks: How is it that I am I? That I came to inhabit this body, at this time? That I am here?
And, unabashedly sharing these questions with my middle-school crush one sunny afternoon, I added, “And how is it that you are you? That you are there?”
Several decades later, I can (a little) better connect the dots between the themes that keeping tugging at me. More than fear of death, I think about the inevitability of heartbreaking loss, and the heart-making love made possible by that inevitability. More than wonderment over existing, I think about the astounding scale of time in which we participate. When I think of the unending chain of events, coincidences, chance encounters, and accidents of luck and fortune that led to the specific existence of me and you; when I think about each of us embodied here, on this planet, for a blink of a universal eye; when I think about the pasts, presents, and futures alive within us—I am in awe.
Life is so precious, I can barely stand it.
And I can barely stand being in a world that persists in pretending not to see it.
Of course, these sentiments are unoriginal. Yet somehow it feels lonely to have these sentiments, so here I am, trying somehow to share them anew.
I’ll also share some words I love from Marcus Buckingham’s book Love + Work. He writes:
“There is no one else in the world—nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be again—who has the same pattern of one hundred trillion connections as you. What you remember, what you forget, what makes you laugh, makes you impatient, makes you angry, what delights you, what scares you, what calms you, what enervates you—it’s all part of a pattern you share with precisely no one. As you walk through life, the world you see is seen by you alone. Your reactions to this world are yours alone. Your loves—that action, that interaction, that person’s laugh, that confrontation, that walk, that blank canvas, that line of computer code, that perfect match between two kitchen tiles—are all and only yours.
Linger on this truth. You have galaxies within you. These galaxies will shine brightly for only your life span. And, upon your death, once they shine no more, nothing and no one will ever shine in quite the same way again. It’s overwhelming. What a responsibility. What an opportunity. What a gift your loves are to the rest of us.”
What would it mean for us to accept these words as true, for ourselves and for each other?
How would we live?