Don’t worry (or celebrate, depending); I haven’t just come into some knowledge that my death is imminent, like that I have cancer or a heart condition or something. It’s just a fact that someday, probably far sooner than I would like, I am going to cease to be a going concern among the living.
And so are you. Along with everyone you know and love, and everyone you don’t know or don’t love. With the possible exception of the immortal jellyfish, every living thing comes to its inevitable conclusion eventually. And I suppose even the immortal jellyfish is going to bite the bullet when the sun eventually engulfs the earth, so scratch that exception. Death comes to us all.
So, being an atheist as I am, what do I think will happen then?
For me? Nothing. I (and in this case I’m using “I” to represent my personality, thoughts, ideas, and memories – the sort of stuff people generally consider to be a person) will cease to exist. And that will be kind of a bummer, I suppose, since I’m still rather fond of existing. On the other hand, since I won’t exist, I won’t be bummed at all. In fact, I simply won’t be. Which is kind of a hard concept to fully grasp.
The body I leave behind (which is odd phrasing, since it implies I’ll be going somewhere), I think I would like to have donated to medical science. Just because I won’t be using it anymore doesn’t mean nobody should, and I think it would give me some comfort in my last moments to think that it could still be used to do some good for other people. I’m an organ donor.
Some people (probably fewer than I think) will be genuinely sad when I’m gone, and probably even mourn me for a bit. I have few requests for them; mourning is for the living, not for the dead, and so I ask only that they do so in whatever way is healthiest for them. If that involves solemn ritual or dressing my corpse up in a clown costume for a night on the town, I really don’t care so long as it helps them.
Others will make appropriately sad noises and gestures of support, without really feeling all that much for my passing. And that’s ok, too. Nobody, really, owes it to me to be torn up over my death, and I wouldn’t want anyone trying to make themselves sad on my behalf out of some sense of obligation.
Of course, the vast majority of people in the world won’t know or care that I’ve died, just as they don’t know or care that I’ve lived. And within a single brief generation, that number will include everyone alive, because everyone who knew and loved me will also be dead.
Does that sound sad? It may surprise you to learn that I don’t think it does. Getting into the why’s and wherefores of that could be its own blog post altogether.
What will it mean for you? Well, for one thing it pretty much guarantees this blog will be over with (assuming it hasn’t ended long before I reach that point). And if you knew me, here’s an implication about my death that you should grasp: you will never see me again. Never. We won’t be hanging out in some “better place” for all eternity, nor will you have the opportunity to watch me tortured by demons for that timeframe either (you know, just in case you’re thinking that’s where I’m headed). We won’t even be trading jokes on the rack in between tightenings of the screws (just in case you happen to think you’re going there too). This time, now, while I’m alive and you’re alive, is the only time we will ever get to spend together.
But that’s kind of what makes this time special. We have only this all-to-brief a time to laugh and to cry, to hold each other or to hold each other at bay, to figure out what’s important to us or not, and to do it or not. We have only this brief time to make the world better, or to make it worse (or to make no impact at all). We have only this brief time in which to live.
It’s so easy to let that time slip by. I’m pretty great at it, myself. Partly because the idea that we’re going to end someday really is hard to fully accept. But I’m trying to get better. Trying to figure out what’s really important to me, and how I can make the world a little better for my having been here. I hope I have the time, and that I can use it wisely.
But if I don’t… if I end without having figured it out… don’t be sad for me. Because even my mistakes will be something you can learn from, and maybe you can leave the world a little better on my behalf.