Hello again and welcome to the second and final part of this topic. Last week I left you with some questions, the same ones I’ve asked others in person. They could be summed this way:
Why do you (and everyone else) fear death, and how does it affect your choices in life?
I think that it has to do with your goals.
My claim, in a nutshell: a person’s fear of death (not dying, but death itself) is inversely proportional to the degree to which they estimate they have accomplished their life’s goals.
What this means is that the more you do what you really want to do, the more comfortable you are with the eventual arrival of the end of your own life.
Widely, those who have seen their dreams come true do not fear death. But those of us who set aside their hopes and aspirations rather than actively pursuing them, foster and develop a deep fear of death, and I believe this is because they fear losing the ability to act on those dreams before it is too late.
The signs are there. The way they build defenses from even thinking about what they truly want in life, let alone actually making a plan to address those things. The way the elderly enter into a malaise leading to senility when they realize they are no longer able to do the thing that may make them happy. The way that so many people wither away mentally (followed by physically) once they no longer have a job or someone to take care of.
But I have also witnessed evidence in myself, and to me, this is the most compelling of the lot. In the last few years, I have seen my health decline. Not precipitously, but significantly. I am in my thirties, but I am beginning to sight the end of my life, be it in my sixties, eighties, or whenever (let’s hope a long time from now). The concept of my death becomes more real with the passage of time, and strangely, the penultimate loss that I can remember associating with it all the way back to my first understanding of death as a child, has waned.
Concurrently, I have seen some of my major life goals come to fruition: I graduated college with a degree in science in 2003. I wrote a book. Two, actually. I published one in 2013. I recorded an album of my own music in 2007, and several more since then. I taught myself to record and thereby took control of the entire creative process for a number of my projects. The first one that I helmed without assistance, start to finish, was released in 2015. I fell in love. Real, soul-jacking love, tore myself apart trying to survive its end, and did, barely. That was a few years ago. I moved to a new location and made it there, on my own, back in 2004. I locked in a dependable, lucrative career in 2015 that uses a portion of my training and skillset. In 2000 I adopted and raised a dog from a pup, gave him a long, happy life, and in a short time I will help him leave it behind. And I will endure that pain, and survive to find happiness on the other side, because I have learned how to do that.
Some of those are failures that I spun into a kind of victory, by handling the failure the right way. Seems like a cop-out, but it’s quite valid and in retrospect it is doubly so. One must give up to truly fail. Therein lies a wonderful truth we may rely on in our lives: the person who works toward their success with honest rigor cannot lose, even if success does not come. The idea almost sounds like political propaganda, but it is coming from a place far from there. Emotionally, the value of successfully working toward a goal is far greater than the value of successfully achieving that goal.
These accomplishments I’ve listed mean a lot to me, and this is largely because I set them as life goals before I undertook them, and when they came to pass, I recognized their importance and truly enjoyed the significance of their completion. To a large degree, the second part of that last sentence is dependent upon the first: you must declare your goal before you tackle it if you are to reap the full benefit of the accomplishment. There is a vital time element here. You must choose a journey before a journey chooses you.
Nowadays I have other goals. Some of them are improved repetitions of ones I’ve already tackled, but they’re there, and I am working toward them. They are not lessened by others that have passed. The creation, expansion, and maintenance of this website is one of them. But my point here is that I now see myself as having actually completed some of my life goals. What this means is that as an achiever, I am done with a portion of my life’s work. That fact puts me at peace, and it helps me cope with the fear of dying. My death, if it happened today on the way home from work, would not be metaphorically the same as quitting a book while still in chapter one. It would be chapter four, or ten, or something along those lines, if we wanted to extend the metaphor. I have accomplished something. And I am truly proud of that. That pride, that accomplishment, erodes the fear of death.
Death is an implacable foe. This is the only defense against death we can ever hope to have: to achieve.
Today I have claimed that the fear of death is caused by failure to meet one’s goals. Not as offensive as some of my prior claims, but possibly a very challenging one, depending on you.
What do you think?