Thinking About Death

I have been thinking about death longer than most people in their early 30s. I've not only thought about it, but I've started entire conversations where I asked the other person to think about their death with me and make a decision about it before getting up from the table. 

Growing up in a conservative Christian home and having your first job after college be selling life insurance, you make a name for yourself in both places based on how well you do when talking to other people about what happens when they die. 

Now, I don't say that flippantly, death is a big deal. But, the way I have come to look at, it is one of the only sure things in this world. We are all going to die. And when something is that honest, it seems a shame to miss out on understanding something with that consistency since there are so few things that are. 

The most dangerous man on earth is the man who has reckoned with his own death. All die; few ever really live.
— John Eldridge

I really got to thinking about death when listening to friends debate how they were going to put their start-up to rest. For more than a couple reasons, their company will no longer be with us and they're trying to handle its demise in a way that causes the least amount of grieving and negative ripples for those that it leaves behind. 

It made me think back to a company I worked with for a brief period of time a couple years ago. Myself and the other leaders of the team sat down with a whiteboard and wrote "Pre-Mortem" at the top and then tried to think of all of the possible causes of death for this idea and our company. We came up with a bunch and in the process uncovered a theme around some of them. In uncovering that theme, we dug a little deeper into why it was so present in our minds and caught an misalignment of expectations within the team.  Working backwards from death, we found a little bit of wisdom to help enjoy life. 

Death happens all around us all day. Companies or organizations dissolve. Bands we liked split and cease making amazing music (Still haven't forgiven John Paul White).  TV shows and publications can't keep up with the changing times and go bankrupt. Friends and family pass away, sometimes in an instant and sometimes with time to say good-bye. There is a finality to it all that is much easier to avoid spending time with than to intentionally sit with it and take it all in. 

But in the unpredictability and the finality of death, there is a beautiful urgency given to life. You have this moment right now, is it the moment you want? You have this life right now, can it be lived it more fully? There is nothing right now stopping you from choosing to make what time you have left in your current relationship or your current company or your current friendships the moments that matter when all others fade. 

In the past 18 months, I've experienced more death, literal and figurative, than any other time in my life. I am still experiencing it as I write these words. It is overwhelming and has me not knowing which way is up sometimes. But in those moments, I am reminded that the only thing that doesn't change is that things will always change. And the more I understand and accept that fact, the more strength I find to deal with it all. 

I think G. K. Chesterton summarized it well when he said, "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. The paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to live, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine."

And to that, I say Cheers.