Morbid Flip Attempt
Christmas time is here, sings *NSYNC on repeat. The baby is turning 1. We bought a house. I had a foundation-rattling, extremely graphic homosexual dream starring my current friend, a middle school classmate I haven’t seen since middle school, and demurring version of myself.
Overall it feels like as good a time as any to think about death. My wife’s childhood friend (more a friend of a good friend on friendly terms) fought off breast cancer a few years ago. She got engaged in September, found out the same week cancer had returned and spread, and died this month.
I hope the brief summary doesn’t come across as callous. I think the tragedy speaks for itself, and I don’t want to overwrite it like I do everything else. I only got to meet her a few times and didn’t know much beyond what she shared publicly.
It of course sucked to hear though. Man, what a hand she was dealt as a 37-year-old with a super healthy lifestyle. I’ve learned to appreciate the draw of religion with older age, but things like this just make it so obvious to me the universe is random. Life is sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel, and always precious because of the crapshoot.
In a well-intentioned attempt to make my wife feel better, I stumbled through this idea that might seem like a stretch and weird mental gymnastics. My wife is so deeply empathetic and sensitive, she thought I was on the autism spectrum when we first started dating because her frame of reference is so different. I have since graduated to “emotionally inept” in her professional assessment as a liberal arts major.
I am actually quite in tune with my feelings; I just try to direct them toward better outcomes. When I wish people congratulations, condolences, even just a happy birthday, I challenge myself to say something thoughtful, something with more potential effect or memorability than “Congrats” or “I’m so sorry.”
The latter was the first thing I said when she told me about her friend. But you can only acknowledge something sucks so many times before searching for a way to improve conditions.
So I tried to explain to my wife if you’re sad about someone dying, you can think about how you’re going to die too. Call it lazy nihilism, but for me it’s an effective stress reliever knowing my entire existence will end relatively soon. It takes the edge off most things. I mentioned this while reflecting on career insecurities at my college reunion six years ago.
If we were immortal, it would be harder to let go of people and occurrences. I couldn’t imagine losing a child and having to live forever. When my parents die, my primary coping mechanism will be reminding myself I’m on deck.
My train of thought goes something like: Someone died. I’m sad. But who am I, Thor? Tomorrow I’ll be 50, then 60, and then we’re looking at wrapping up. Why am I going to spend this time being sad for someone else? We’re in the same boat.
Suppose you lived in an affluent town, and suddenly everyone except you was thrown into immutable poverty. It would be hard to enjoy being rich. But if you knew you were joining them in poverty at some point, it shouldn’t be as hard to enjoy your remaining time.
Like I said, mental gymnastics — almost like trying to trick yourself into a better mood. The output is not intended to be carpe diem, hedonism or nothing-matters-why-bother. It’s more pragmatic, a little valve to release excess guilt, angst or whatever keeps you from an equilibrium feeling that everything is going to be more or less all right.
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