Who are we, on the cusp of death?
This is my first post on BULB, so I wanted to introduce myself.
Having on planet Earth for several years now, I notice that new people introduce themselves to a group with reference to what they do in the world - job, title, or some other marker of success/status. When you consider the sweeping vastness of the human spirit, I wonder why this is our custom?
I suppose it is a way of sifting and sorting each other into buckets. Splicing efficiently - those with whom we can relate versus not. I do wonder, however, about the multitude ways we relate that don't involve hallmarks of doing, achieving, performing. For example our shared vulnerabilities. Our fears. Those moments of awkwardness we wish we could delete from our consciousness. Outlandish hopes (that we hope we never outgrow). For some, it is unspeakable anxiety. Or grief. Or love.
Instead of indulging in our usual custom, I have decided instead to take an excerpt from a particularly existential musing I had, at an important juncture in my life. I wrote it on 10/01/17 and it's surprising to see how much it still resonates with me now, despite how much my life has changed since then. I hope it resonates with you. And I hope through this you get to know who I am with deeper regard than if I just told you what roles I play in the world.
It is called:
Who are we on the cusp of death?
I have recently been contemplating mortality, the meaning of life and purpose. We all do, of course.
Three events are uneasy reminders of my fragile mortality:
- Leaving the corporate world to pursue (as yet undetermined) entrepreneurial, creative and philanthropic endeavours
- Being married for a year & teetering on the edge of a major decision — when (or if) to start a family & what kind of upbringing I want to offer them: financially, intellectually, emotionally & philosophically
- The rapid demise of my Dad who is 89 years old.
Philosophy, writing and poetry offer some consolation (special hat-tip to Alain de Botton). Exploring existentialism, stoicism, Buddhism, epicureanism and immortalism among other ideas ease the anxiety, somewhat.
But mostly I wonder: how can I best give back to this unfathomably vast universe that created me & will ultimately take me away? The universe that has heckled me, showered me with love, stung me with lessons, guided me to lifelong friends and enabled me to create — to express my, ultimately temporary, self — if only for a little while.
I had such a strong conviction that meaning and success were inextricably coupled with professional ascension. Had I continued that path perhaps, on the cusp of death, I would be reduced to my professional achievements. I now can’t accept that. It promotes only more suffering.
On the cusp of death, my dad, whose story is the subject of the next post, appears to personify his wounds. He is the incessant sting of verbal barbs flung at his struggling 19 year old self, by judgmental and petty relatives, decades long since decomposed.
Are we, on the cusp of death, our perception of ourselves? When we explode into stardust, can we say “I was myself”? Does it matter? Are we the things we did — or failed to do? Are we our hopes and dreams achieved — or left unmet? Did we meet good standards of behaviour, ethics, integrity? How much unfinished business are we willing to accept as we sleep for the final time?
Are we, on the cusp of death, memories that we leave in the safe hands of those we created them with? Are we that which soothes others’ when they are distressed? Or are we that which etches pain in the face of those we love; leaving behind, during our lifetime, too many harsh words left to fester? Are we the memory that inspires an amused smirk when our kindred spirits remember shared misadventures? Did we in life, and death, inspire fear, indifference or hope?
Are we, on the cusp of death, not one of these things, but the journey that we had — and what’s more — how we had it? Did we live deliberately — or let ourselves be led by circumstance? Did we contribute to the world — or take from it? Did we comfort — or distance — our most beloved? Did we inspire — or hurt — strangers and peers? Did we realise we were wrong — and say sorry? Did we learn from our mistakes? Did we try to get better — or did we sit back and hope that the world did that for us?
Did we immerse someone else in our own immortal love, at least once, during our infinitesimally short existence?
Are we, on the cusp of death, missing the point?
Are we just terrified of going home? A home where, in the end, we patiently remain inert for trillions of years — until it is time for us to feel pain, fear and hope, yet again.