Are You Comfortable With Your Mortality?

by Shaina

So the other day, I was massaging my girlfriend’s back, because she said it hurt from work.  “Am I dying?” she asked.

“Well…” I began.

“True, we both are.”

“Yeah, but it’s OK.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not the normal way that conversation is supposed to go.  I feel like most people would say something sweet like, “no, babe, you’re gonna be fine,” or something.  But we spend a fair amount of time thinking about the philosophy of life and death, and therefore, we build a lot of thoughts on the basic knowledge that we are rocketing towards death at an unquantifiable speed every waking second.  It’s just true.  For everyone.

Originally, I wanted to write about how I perceive a lot of human behavior as avoiding facing our imminent death.  More specifically, how I perceive a lot of goal oriented behavior as discomfort with mortality.  This is absolutely starting to sound like a bunch of hippie bullshit, but bear with me here for a minute.  My philosophy around the topic begins with a couple basic truths.  The first is that we are all humans that are going to die.  The second is that many of us would like to accomplish one or more goals in our lives.  The third is that failure to achieve the goals is possible.  I will use my industry, cooking, as the example for most of this article.

Let’s say my dream in life was to open a cafe and juice bar (this is horrifyingly far from anything I would ever want to do, but let’s just pretend).  There are many possible outcomes of my attempt to meet my goal.  But, assuming I would do whatever it took to open my cafe, let’s say that I worked my ass off, learned everything I could about coffee and juice, became a ninja in the art of the latte, went to business school to learn about running a restaurant, etc.  And I worked at a steel mill to pay my way through school, occasionally performing provocative routines at a local bar when I had the time.  I had a hard life without much time for social interaction, but it was worth it, because nothing would stand between me and my cafe and juicery.

But then let’s say that my business failed and I turned into a catatonic shell of a person and could never perform another flash dance, let alone get out of bed to go back to work at the steel mill.  In that case, I wasted years preparing to live my dream and then, essentially, lost my will to live.  Or better yet, let’s say that my business succeeded, but only enough for me to support myself comfortably for the rest of my life, and no one got much more than some coffee and juice from my shop, and maybe one day I would get tired of running the place and bequeath it to my long time started-from-the-dish-pit-now-he’s-here employee, Raul.  Then what?  Still dying.  There’s something inside of us that makes us feel good when we achieve something, but it’s strange how that’s a natural thing.  And maybe that’s because it’s not survival that is key but rather thriving just enough to be a part of the naturally selected race, at the end of the day.  To me, though, being “someone” or doing “something” is sort of something that people attempt order to deny the fact that one day this will all be gone.  The urge to leave a mark is something I pair with the fear of oblivion.  That it won’t matter that you ever were on Earth.

So, originally, that was my train of thought.  Why not just embrace mediocrity?  Why not just enjoy the days we have and cut out the risk of wasting time trying to achieve something?  The best analogy to explain this is school.  I’ll use my brother and sister as an example, because they’re both freshmen in college.  Say that Grant is busting his ass to get straight A’s this semester and doesn’t have any fun at school, because he’s too busy working hard.  And let’s say that Sydney doesn’t give a flying fuck about school and drinks her way through year one such that she barely remembers it come next week when she moves out of her dorm for summer break.  Now imagine that Grant gets mostly B’s and a couple A’s.  And Sydney gets mostly B’s and a C.  Imagine his disappointment and regret at all the wasted time.  It’s a weighing of opportunity cost.  That’s why I embraced the “let’s just shoot for mostly B’s” mentality in college.  Low-risk, low reward.  But I had a pretty good idea of what I had coming, and I was able to enjoy the time I saved by studying less.  We’re all dying, so let’s just enjoy this time we have.

But I kept thinking about this question…are you comfortable with your mortality?  Am I?  What is the converse?  What happens if you don’t try to accomplish?  What is the other side of all of this?  So what am I doing if I’m not striving to open my cafe and juicery for America’s finest basic people?  Besides ruminating over life’s philosophical quandaries?  Having experiences.  What kind of experiences?  I make art, I like to eat and drink, have relationships with friends and a significant other, etc.  Why is it that I like these things?  Because they’re fun.  Why are they fun?  Because they distract.  Distract from what?  Life.  And that’s the goo right there.  That’s the fucking answer, man (you may wish to imagine me saying this with a beanie on my head and a joint in my hand; none of that is accurate.  Actually, I’m just sitting around in my pajamas).  Digging into experiences as an outlet is an escape from the reality of being a human on this earth that just needs to consume energy and water and air to exist.  All that is so boring, existing without distraction.

So by extension, if I’m an experiencer instead of an achiever (for example), am I fully embracing mortality by constantly attempting to deny that I’m just alive?  Is wanting out of life just wanting death?  Is that why French people call an orgasm “le petit mort” (the little death)?  Because it’s an out from life?  So are experiencers just fucking in love with mortality, or what?  And are achievers and experiencers mutually exclusive?  Is the definition of a well-adjusted human someone who balances these two desires well?  The desire to transcend death but also to die?

Ultimately, I do think it’s fucking naive to be a power-hungry, achievement oriented person who can’t wake the fuck up and realize that at the end of the day, we’re all going to die. Even if we do something as impactful to the human race as inventing the wheel, it still wouldn’t matter, because advancement is sort of so random that the human race would be impressed by most growth, regardless of what it is.  If no one had invented the wheel, someone else might’ve invented a more accessible way to fucking fly or move shit around without a wheel, and maybe it would’ve been better.  The way in which we advance is not only irrelevant to us, since we will be dead in a short while, but it’s also irrelevant for future generations, because they will adapt their needs to the times accordingly, and who cares what we did for them?  However, it is possible that being defeatist and cynical enough to ride a wave of hedonism right into the ground for the rest of our lives is silly.  But it still wouldn’t matter, because Grant and Sydney both got mostly B’s, right?