Fearing the Life Unlived
"Do you know a cure for me?" "Why yes," he said, "I know a cure for everything. Salt water."
"Salt water?" I asked him. "Yes," he said, " in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea."
Karen Blixen, The Deluge at Norderney
When my father's brother died a couple of years ago, I found myself face to face with the inevitability of death. I would sit awake at night for the weeks that followed, afraid to fall asleep because I might not wake up the next morning. I'd had this realization before, but I was a mere thirteen years old and I was able to brush it off in a day or two and go back to living obliviously. After all, isn't that what we all do when we remember that our lives in this world are temporary?
The five days following John's death were a blur of gatherings and grief. Nothing in the world mattered more than honoring his life. The morning after his memorial service, we attempted to resume our lives as normally as possible. We failed. Later that evening, I sat on the living room couch with my dad in silence for over an hour. I finally whispered, "Nothing I need to do right now feels important." He quietly agreed. I've never felt a stronger sense of mutual understanding with another person than I did in that moment with my dad.
So much changed in the six months that followed. My father lost his mother and another brother, and when you experience that much loss, you sort of learn how to laugh your way through the grief. You grow accustomed to the feeling of loss and in order to maintain your sanity, you must learn to rationalize what’s happening around you. These are the experiences that give us our strength and our resilience. However, such experiences can also lead us to wall ourselves off from the world and allow ourselves to grow cold and apathetic. But we mustn’t let this happen. We must learn to maintain our softness amid hardship.
Every so often, the weight of my inevitable mortality becomes too much to bear and I shut down. I grow anxious and depressed and I find it hard to focus on anything else. But now, I try to use it as means of motivating myself to do better. Instead of fearing death itself, I now fear using the time I have in this world unwisely. And lately, I feel like I’m succumbing to a life that I don’t want. These days, the idea of a healthy balance between work and life is so far gone that I’m quickly growing desperate for change.
I haven’t had a ton of time to spend with myself and reflect lately, but during the rare quiet moments, I’ve been considering taking some pretty drastic risks for the sake of a better quality of life. I’m still unsure about how exactly I should proceed, but I know that I’ve got to do something. I’ve been growing increasingly unhappy with my life and my inability to be truly present in the world. I feel extremely disconnected from myself. I want to be more creative. I want to spend more time in nature. I want to feel like I’m doing something with my life that matters. As one of of my close friends told me over coffee last week, in order to achieve the life I want, I have to be the one to make it happen. And I intend on seeing this through.
I ventured out to the Oregon coast a few days ago. I was craving time alone in nature, and the sea possesses a sort of healing quality unlike anything I’ve ever before experienced. The humid, salty air filling my lungs. The hypnotic sound of the waves rolling into shore. A day spent along the ocean shore never fails to make me feel full again, even if only for a short time. I walked through the sand until my legs were sore. I drove 60 miles along the coast with my windows down, my feet bare, music blasting, and for the first time in months, I felt young and free. I yearn for more days like this one and can only hope that there are many more to come.