There has been something about having a 5 at the start of my age that has sent me into a perpetual state of reflection, anticipation, and pondering. The result of all of this is a deep understanding of, and perhaps even welcoming of, the condition of angst.
Human beings, as far as we know, are the only living creatures who ponder their own death before it happens. Yay, humans!
I always knew, of course, that I would die someday, but the angst is recent. I can't say that the pondering is entirely recent. You may recall that I previously confessed in a blog post to contemplating suicide as a teenager, but this pondering that is linked with a complete understanding of the complete and utter erasure of my being is certainly recent.
In a conversation with my son, Tony, one day, we talked about a church member and mother of one of his friends who was battling cancer and had very little time left in this world. We contemplated how we might feel if we were faced with this certain end. He said something that was so profound to me that it was possibly the catalyst for my angst. He said,
"I'm not afraid of dying, I'm afraid of not being here."
Now that, my friends, is exactly where I'm at. I've never been afraid of dying. My dark teenage thoughts were encouraged to linger because of that. My family raised us in an atmosphere of open discussion about the realities of death. We contemplated it whenever a relative would die. We all thought we were so enlightened because we were not afraid. I truly wasn't afraid of death, I was more often afraid of the process of dying - how hard would it be, would it be painful, etc.
Once Tony voiced the more terrifying state - of not being here - I haven't been able to shake it. I sit in my house now, typing this, and looking around at the life that I have and how precious it is, and how beautiful my children and grandchild are, and all that I have to look forward to and then it rushes at me. The angst. The sheer meaningless reality of human existence.
I photograph headstones as a volunteer for Find A Grave and sometimes when I'm standing over that stone, I try to imagine the person interred there. What did they sound like? What was their favorite thing to do? What foods did they hate? The stone doesn't tell me. The dates tell me whether there is likely to be anyone alive still who could know, but in the end, enough time will pass for all of us that nobody will still be around who really remembers us.
|Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)|
The writer of Ecclesiastes had it. We don't even know for sure who he was. Even if we do think we know who he was, we don't know what he sounded like. We don't know what his favorite thing to do was. We don't know what foods he hated.
It can either paralyze you or empower you. When we are truly aware of the limited days we have, we can become depressed and fearful or we can feel a drive toward making our lives count for something.
I'm choosing the latter. While I can get teary-eyed when I'm filled with angst like I am today, the condition itself calls for action. I begin making plans. I start thinking about goals. I cheer myself toward making a difference in the world (and by world I generally mean my corner of it).
And I write.
Because, that is one thing that could tell somebody 200 years from now who I was, what I found to be most important . . .
and maybe even what foods I hated.