“Life and love are confusing things, and too many nights are spent sleepless.”
A friend sent a note the other day, and those were my words typed in solidarity with someone trying to figure it out. It had a certain ring to it, flowed in a writerly way I strive for all in all my work.
And it’s true: whether in life or in love I have no idea what I’m doing, and many nights are spent tossing. If the world overwhelms you, if it seems too bright or too fast or too complicated, I get it. I too am doing my best to hold on.
I read a book the other day by Oliver Sacks, now-deceased professor, writer and neurologist. The book was called Gratitude. It’s small, took barely an hour, four essays Sacks wrote in his final years. It chronicles turning 80, the revelation he has cancer, and his final thoughts before his death at 82. It’s short enough to read in an hour. And like any book addressing death directly, it’s powerful. A Washington Post reviewer called it Sacks’ posthumous gift.
Perhaps anything that grows so directly from death is bound to be moving, bound to contain poignant reminders our days are few, that life will not continue forever. A year ago my step-grandmother died, and the piece I wrote about her was similarly affecting.
But death is not only sad; it also a doorway, a secret entrance, the key to god and the universe and life and love and everything. It is both. It is everything. It is all of it at the same time.
How? Simple: You are already dead, so there is nothing to fear. Ever. Nothing.
How easily we forget. How easily we get distracted by work and bills and advertisements and immediate needs. But we will die. We will not escape. We are there already. Time has bent and death is upon us and every thought we have from now until it arrives is but a dream, the briefest hallucination.
Death will come, and when it does it will come fast, fully, completely. And in that moment it will feel like your life was a blink, a sneeze, a flurry of activity ended premature. There is no way to sidestep, no way to avoid that which everyone before has succumbed, which everyone we know will succumb, that which we ourselves will eventually also submit.
But there is something comforting in that. You will die, and I will die, and no matter how many people surround us in the end it will inevitably be alone. But it is a doorway everyone passes through. We all walk together to that aloneness, united in something we cannot but do by ourselves.
So we know it is coming. There is no stopping it. And we know it will happen alone. But in that truth we are united and no one is ever alone. So let go of the fear. To fear death is to expend energy that makes no change. Instead we can welcome it, look with openness and wonder as it approaches, greet its coming with a willingness to see what adventure it holds, the final and most brilliant version following a life of mini-adventures.
That switch, that walk through death’s doorway with openness and grace, makes all the difference. It transforms everything. Death is coming, but exorcised from fear it loses control of us. It becomes just another step, another dance we are lucky enough to experience. And in becoming that it allows us to let go of ourselves. Death’s inevitability becomes just one more step, one more mystery to uncover, one we can do with grace.
Because mysteries are the most amazing parts of life. Falling in love is the mystery of meeting someone new, watching the story of them unfold before you. Life is but the unfolding of your own mystery. Death is just another version, a new step in a dance we are privileged to practice. Like life, like love, it is an experience to cherish, something to be lived fully, felt fully.
And stripped of fear, stripped of the need to control every step, those moments before death arrives become brighter, richer. There is no reason for fear, no reason for regret, no reason to look back and say “I wish.” Because stripped of fear, stripped of angst and worry, we live fully. Love falls deeply, wildly, uncontrollably. Life runs reckless, perfect and free. Every moment becomes a chance to fill the space we are offered with beauty, grace, wild blasts of perfection, moments that breathe and then die just like we do. We do not look to hold onto them after they are over, because they, just like us, are temporary. And in the briefest spark burns the full essence of life.
Life, love, sleepless nights and the promise of an adventure far greater than anything our memories hold—it is all before us, within us, surrounding us completely. We cannot get away from it, the raw beauty of a world stripped clear of pretense and fear. It whispers in the wind, hides the air we breathe, courses alongside the blood in our veins. It is all that we are.
But we forget. We wander and stray. We fall into ourselves, trapped in a conversation so easily distracted.
But not to worry, Death will greet us all someday. You will be reminded. And when that time comes, I will be next to you. As will everyone.