I had a hard time accepting death. At age 20, I stared in the mirror and saw my wrinkles as evidence of aging, decay, and eventual death. I resolved to become a scientist who would discover a way to reverse aging. I was infuriated that everyone died and thought that with all the biomedical science out there, it should be possible to cure aging. For the next few years, I plunged into the research, but came to the opinion that in my lifetime science would not defeat aging. So back to square one: I would die.
I installed this little timer on my computer to countdown to the day I will be 80, which is about my life expectancy. It’s a daily reminder to do something meaningful with my life.
Last week I stayed with Bill and Ariel, two friends who are starting up their own farm. Bill’s vision is to use the farm as a vehicle to save and distribute rare seeds. In America, the agricultural system has changed so farmers now buy seeds from big companies and are dependent on them, as opposed to saving their seeds year to year. Many highly nutritious varieties of plants have been lost. Bill wants to do his part to change this. He doesn’t want to be a huge revolutionary, he just wants to do something.
Like Bill, I’m wired for idealism: fighting the good fight, changing the world. It’s sad to me when people have the attitude: “You can’t fight the big powers, so you might as well join them and be on the side that’s winning.” I was reading my college magazine and came across this description of one guy’s career:
How depressing. We need more humanity, we need to realize we’re all in this together.
Though cliche, my coping mechanism for death is to try to make a positive impact on the world. This doesn’t necessarily mean: build a super-awesome world-improving machine that you will be remembered for. It could just mean: hug your loved ones. The Slingshot, a radical day-planner, says the following on its last page: “Ultimately, our relationships with other people are the framework of a new world built on hope, trust and love. This is our strongest revolutionary tool.”
But a lot of the time I get distracted and focused on self-centered mental battles that do exactly zero good for other people. Kim Gordon sings this song for her brother, and she is hella angry:
If I could give you anything / I would give you a kick.
You’d rather have a dollar / than a hug from your sis.
– Kim Gordon, Cinderella’s Big Score
Here is the full video:
I need Kim Gordon to sit on my shoulder as I go through life, like the good angel in old cartoons. If I act like a dweeb, she’ll give me a kick. I went to a restaurant the other day and got some tea and was all stressed out and in my head. What the hell is wrong with me? I have only 19,000-something days left. I can’t be stressed out. I need to get out of my self-centered mumbo jumbo and give my loved ones a hug.
The song continues:
You really fucked up this time / Your ol’ lady’s really pissed
She’s not just laughing / She’s polishing her fist.
Yeah, I’m going to die, and that means I need to be a good person. Angel on my shoulder, let’s go, let’s go. Death is coming around the corner and life is a game where I decide how to spend these days as the timer runs down. As 19,000 becomes 18,000 becomes 17,000 becomes … 1,000, I want to do good with my days.
P.S. One practical mental health tip I’ve found is taking cold showers. It’s really tough to be all up in your own head during a cold shower. And they take zero effort, you just have to flip the switch from hot to cold. A cold shower is a nice little kick.
P.P.S. If I had to summarize this long, meandering post, it would be: Act like a freakin’ human being. Don’t get kicked by Kim Gordon. Remember the human.
P.P.P.S. The writer David Sedaris picks up trash on the side of the road in his free time. He finds it satisfying. He’s this big fancy writer, but he spends a lot of time doing simple good things.