Death Becomes Us

That dragonfly is dead.

David Bowie is gone.

So now is Alan Rickman (who probably would’ve done a bang-up job playing Bowie), too.

Shit goddamnit shit.

And also the familiar, oft-repeated refrain:

Fuck cancer. Times a thousand. Times a million. Times infinity.

Art at its core is, I think, driven by death. It’s there to help us look away from death. Art is there to help us understand it. Art is there to romanticize death — or to stare it square in the face.

And death is also something that motivates artists.

When we’re born, we’re guaranteed two things: one breath and death. Everybody who lives gets those two certain narrative beats to their story, birth, death, born, died. It is not a morbid fantasy to note that I’m going to die and so are you. It’s not a threat. It’s a promise earned by life — that grim balancing of the scales is not reserved for one person over the next, for you but not for me, for the under-served but not the privileged. We all have wildly different journeys but when our time is up it’s like game design: we are all funneled toward the same ending, the same inevitability. Some of our life is about ignoring death and pretending it isn’t there. Some of our life is geared toward trying to prevent death — or, for some, running headlong toward it.

The fear of death can destroy you.

But the epiphany of it can also motivate you.

People ask why I work so hard or why I’ve been so single-minded to be what I want to be and that’s because I don’t want deathbed regrets. I don’t want to get there and then look back over my shoulder and look at all the closed doors I wanted to open. I don’t fear death; I fear purposeless death. My work, my writing, is very explicitly motivated by the reality that I could get gored by a moose tomorrow, I could get crushed by a bulldozer in ten years, I could get prostate cancer and die in my 60s like my father, I could get pneumonia (again) and die when I’m 99. It’s coming. I know it. And so I cleave to the act of creation both to spite and to make sense of the ineluctable destruction. I don’t know what happens after we go. That’s an adventure either of realms beyond life or becoming food for trees and worms (both of which sound very nice in their own special way). Concentrating on what’s past the mortal gates, though, is a very bad way to live.

As such, I’ll say here what I said on Twitter this morning:

Everybody dies.

Love those that you have while you have them.

And do what you love while the world has you.

Bowie did that. Rickman did that. Be like Bowie. Be like Rickman.

Live. Make. Love. And then, only then, die.

68 comments

  • I attended a funeral mass yesterday for a close friend who died too young from cancer. Even the ceremony of the Catholic funeral mass wasn’t enough to distract me from the dark thoughts I had about death, and dying. And then I started to daydream about the universe. About things like the Hubble Deep Field and how long the universe has been here and the idea of infinity and the mind-fucking idea of how small we all are in this ridiculously huge space. I felt a bit better after that. Dying doesn’t seem like such a big deal compared to everything else. Just glad to be able to be here at all.

  • Yes! This is it exactly! I also have a fear of being on my death-bed, and thinking – oh, if only I’d . . . but I’ve learnt to give myself time too – I have the time that I shall have – don’t waste it on a load of stuff you don’t want – but it’s there until it’s gone – so don’t waste it on worrying, either.

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