Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Life in death

It’s strange. You know you’re going to die, people you know have died, you hear about natural disasters, terminal illnesses, terrorist attacks, freak accidents, and yet somehow you grow up thinking you’re invincible. “You only live once,” you are wont to reason—ironically—for the reckless stunts you pull.

But then one day, it just hits you: “What’s the point of it all if it’s going to end?”

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I don’t remember the particulars of that moment, but to my memory there was no great catalyst to this existential crisis. I just remember the weeks of troubled sleep that followed.

I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that it could all end so suddenly—works unfinished, words unsaid—to something as random as lightning. And while I didn’t really want to know when and how I was going to die, living with this unknown made me feel powerless. I began to question every little thing I was doing and despaired at the seeming senselessness of it. I thought of the years ahead of me in increments of 10 and panicked at how quickly I was getting old, how close I was subject to the slew of limitations and prescriptions that that entailed.

And so it was that, at 25, I freaked at the first sign of eye bags. In my bleakest moments, I would think about life after death and wonder if the concept was created as a coping mechanism for the vein of anxiety I was going through. It made me question the whole construct of the religion into which I was born.

And then it dawned on me: “What’s the point of it all if it’s NOT going to end?”

Again, no known catalyst to this life-changing rebuttal, and no memory of the particulars either. I point this out to say that this overwhelming awareness of mortality can sucker-punch you while you’re washing the dishes. And while it is frightening: Venture into the darkness. Feel your way through its layout. There will be a light switch somewhere.

Death gives life direction and urgency. Without an end, we’d all be walking aimlessly, counting on Little Orphan Annie’s never-ending tomorrow. Consider if you had a thousand years to live: Would you really make the most out of it? Read all the great books? Visit the seven continents? Try to make a difference?

Unlikely, but whether you would doesn’t matter because you: a) can’t physically prove it, and b) that is not the point here. The point is that with a much shorter, more realistic life span, you will have accomplished just as much. I suppose I can’t really prove the likelihood of this either, but if you think back to all those times you’ve done two similar tasks under different deadlines (one in a week, one in a day), you’ll side with me and Parkinson on this one. That’s his law for you: Work stretches to fill time.

Estimating I have about 50 years more to live has put my priorities in order. Cheesy as it sounds, I wake up every day with a sense of purpose, knowing every thing I do is a step closer toward a goal. I’ve embraced a little bit of prudence. I think long-term, unknowns factored in. I’ve learned to value time, to say no, to eat my vegetables. I’ve found power in self-awareness, freedom in self-discipline, and—I’m loath to admit this—inspiration in self-help books.

“The days are long, but the years are short” is my constant mental reminder, a “Splendid Truth” I picked up from Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project.”

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In the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity,” the turning point for its central character, Rob Fleming, begins with this realization: “I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and… I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open.”

For the longest time, I’ve had this relationship with life. Death changed all that.

Pamela Grace G. Lico, 26, is a photographer/writer born and raised in Cagayan de Oro City and now based in Dubai.

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TAGS: death, Gretchen Rubin, High Fidelity, life, meaning, Nick Hornby, purpose, The Happiness Project
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