Why are we so afraid of death?


Tomorrow morning when my alarm clock will ring, and after I’ve snoozed it several times, I will wake up to rays of the Sun filtering in through my window. If it is an overcast morning I will know that the Sun is still out there somewhere, hidden behind the clouds. I know that will be true no matter whatever happens today.

That is called a belief.

I also believe that fifty to a hundred years from now I will no longer wake up to see the Sun. I will no longer wake up. My body will either be ashes spread somewhere or buried deep inside a hole. I haven’t decided on that part yet.

Neither will the seven billion or so inhabiting this piece of rock today, or the billions that roamed before them. There will always come a day in every person’s life when she will not wake up to see the Sun any more. I have a very strong belief about this, stronger than the Sun rising tomorrow.

If I were religious I would happily believe that my eternal spirit will carry on its ethereal existence, divorced from flesh and blood, unable to drink wine, make love or ride in the subway, either waiting for its turn to reincarnate or frolicking in heaven, hopefully. But, I’m not religious. I don’t think about my spirit too much.

Should I be concerned that I won’t be here forever? Does that diminish what I am today? Does a part of me have to live on forever, or go away somewhere exotic after my body stops working, to make the life that I’m living today meaningful?

Is something meaningful only if it is eternal? Can fleeting things be meaningful too?

I used to love this woman deeply. I would drive over to her place in the evening, we would order pizza, or Chinese,  sit on the couch and talk, listening, saying, watching each other’s face, and at some point we’d realize it’s morning. Hours would fly by. We enjoyed every moment with each other. Our trips together, visits to museums, gardens. I used to write poetry for her. It was a relationship where happiness peeked out from every corner.

We broke up one day.We are still friends and still fond of each other but not in love. We have both been in other relationships since we broke up. Ours wasn’t the eternal love that we thought it was.

Does that make any of those moments less? Sometimes I walk along paths that  I have never taken in the past. I am not sure if I will ever take that path in the future. What I know is that I love the breeze flowing through the trees, the chatter of the birds, the shimmering on the surface of the water alongside, and I know that what I enjoy for that moment is all that will matter, independent of what the next moment will be.

My daughter will be going to college in a couple of years. There was a day when she would come running into my arms in her toddler steps when I came home. Nowadays when she’s with me she keeps to herself most of the time. I know we both care fore each other deeply, but the nature of our relationship has changed. She is a young independent woman about to set foot into the world by herself. I don’t know how far away her college will be, how many times she will visit me or call me. Where she will be after she graduates. I just know that no one will ever come running into my arms with toddler steps the moment I open the door.

Does the change make the past experience any less? Would I prefer she stay a toddler for ever?

In our search for eternity we often miss the beauty in the ephemeral. Society programs us to believe that if something ends it is not good enough. A consciousness that is not eternal is less. We are more obsessed about our afterlife and having a good time there than our life that is right here and right now. Death is either an ultimate annihilation, making everything we experienced meaningless or a gateway to a better life that we must strive and always prepare for.

Death is neither. It is an inevitable event. Like growing hair and subsequently losing it. Birth and death are the two bookends that hold the treasure of life in the shelf. We can avoid neither. But we can enjoy every moment we live between these two, knowing that each moment of our experience is true, undiminished in its transience, eloquent in its exposure, and that these moments individually add up to what we call our life.