I should have been a philosopher. I think about dying a lot.
A few years ago I thought about it so much I stopped flying. Stopped doing anything risky. My anxiety levels shot up when I heard loud noises.
So I did what anyone these days does when life gets stressful. I went to see a therapist. I learned that most of my fear was related to this anxiety/worry about dying with unfinished business. Would I die with regrets? Would I die without those closest to me knowing how much I love them?
Dealing with the fear has not been that simple, of course. And it is also wrapped up in other traumas from early years that pop up and get mixed into it now and again. But the understanding of, the realization of all this has made coping so much easier.
I listen to podcasts every morning at the gym, and today’s with Kate Manser made me slow down and really listen. Then I flipped to an Atlantic article about Ernest Becker’s The Life and Death of Meaning and found this:
More often though, it’s the hope of symbolic immortality that calms the frightened rabbits of death-fearing hearts—the idea that people are a part of something that will last longer than they do.
Is this what I get from printing? A thought that my work will last longer than I do? I had not thought of this before, but I do love having my grandmother’s paintings on my walls and a stack of my Dad’s letters in my desk. These are comforting, constant reminders of the ancients. I love thinking that my grandchildren or great grandchildren might one day hold a letterpress printed card from me.
The article also addresses one’s world view as part of how we think about death, and it’s fascinating. “Their culture, their country, their family, their work. When thinking of death, people cling more intensely to the institutions they’re a part of, and the worldviews they hold.”
If you look at the problems that currently befall humanity—we can’t get along with each other, we’re pissing on the environment, [there’s] rampant economic instability by virtue of mindless conspicuous consumption—they’re all malignant manifestations of death anxiety running amok.
I know I am lucky, privileged even, to have the time, energy, and resources to spend time thinking about all this. First world problems, right? Yet, to each of us, a problem is a problem. The article ends with this, and I think I”ll ponder it for a while and keep on printing.
“Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him,” E.M. Forster once wrote. I don’t know if there’s really any salvation, but if we accept death, maybe we can just live.