I should start by stating that I am not depressed, sad, or feeling suicidal. I know this topic is often associated with depression, sadness, and all things related but that’s what I want to confront.
I used to be scared of death. As a kid, I was shaken to the core to think that this body and my thoughts would cease to exist. It was the scariest thing in the world to think that one day there would just be darkness. And that I wouldn’t even be able to perceive that darkness. I wouldn’t have the cognitive ability to understand I was dead. Everything would just cease. For me, it wasn’t about pain or about lost potential. I wasn’t scared of leaving life, it was more an existential crisis and a realization that my reality is the only reality I know and how minuscule and possibly false it all is.
I grew out of that, but it took a while.
As a kid, I was scared because I wanted to do everything. I wanted to live forever because I wanted my miraculous ability to think to continue for eternity. I don’t think I’m alone in that. This idea of wanting to live forever and experience infinite moments is the appeal of shows such as Doctor Who. However, I concluded that it’s okay to die. Not just that, it’s inevitable and it is one of the beautiful things about life.
Now hear me out, I don’t mean to say death from a biological aspect is beautiful. I’m sure there’s a subset of scientists who do believe that, but the human body rotting is not the appeal for me.
I was walking through Rocky Mountain National Park two years ago. I was hiking one of the harder hikes in Rocky Mountain, Thunder Lake, which was 11.6 miles roundtrip. About halfway up, I saw this golden field just past the trees and off the trail. I paused because I knew I shouldn’t go off the trail, but the field was so picturesque. Against my lawful judgment, I stepped off the path and ducked under the trees into this sunny valley. It was nestled against huge 14ers that still had some snow on their peaks and a small stream of clear water quietly trickled through the tall grasses. I had my camera and I remember taking video of the little fishes in the stream ducking in and out of rocks. I felt this wave of calm wash over me and I wanted to stay in that field forever. To just lay in the grass with the sun on my face and the chill fall wind rustling the grasses every so often.
I think of that moment often. My camera has since broken so I can’t revisit the field through pictures or videos anymore but it’s still clear as day. I think of it when I read books like Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and when I hike in Boulder. I’ll listen to a classical song and be taken back to that day in the field and stretch those few minutes into hours. And when I think of death, I think of that field. Not because it reminds me of death but because it’s the opposite of death. It was the height of life. Not my life, but life itself and what living feels like.
I have lots of those moments. Ones with friends, with new knowledge, with traveling and new experiences, and with moments of extreme sadness. All these times where it felt like I felt truly alive. I hold on to moments like those because they make me understand that I have tasted life and that I am content with what I have tasted.
That moment stands out to me in particular because I was completely alone. I think that field has become part of my definition of peace. And I hope, as most people do, that my death will be a peaceful one. And so, death doesn’t mean sadness for me because I associate it so strongly with the best part of life. The peaceful moments of life. And the fact that I have lived and experienced all that I have.
For me, death is the conclusion of a book or the finale of a show. It’s comforting for me to know that I will stop existing at some point. And I don’t think I would be able to comfortably say that without coming to the realization that I have had a great life and that living is indescribably beautiful. I realize that there’s so much that I’ve done in this world and so many things I’ve experienced that I don’t need more to feel fulfilled.
I’m glad books like Harry Potter talked about death in a way that tackled the sadness and pain that comes with death but also the joy of living.
“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” -Dumbledore
I can’t say how much of an impact it had on me as a kid because until college, the idea of death was one of the few things that made me bawl my eyes out. I was terrified of the idea that my cognitive ability to see and experience the world would cease. It wasn’t until college that I truly got over that fear of death. Looking back now though, I see that Rowling spoke of death in a way that I, now, understand. As a kid, I took it as wisdom that I knew was true but also knew I didn’t have the experience to truly comprehend it. I wouldn’t say I have any real experience to death even now but I suppose I have a perspective on death and life that helped me come to terms with my eventual end.
Death is not sad to me. I feel serene and peaceful. I don’t linger on the pain of death but more the idea that I will, at some point, conclude my life. And that conclusion will be beautiful because I’ve had a beautiful life.
I don’t talk a lot about my interest in death with people because they think I’m weird. They probably think I’m some freak who likes to inspect dead animals and wants to become a mortician. But in fact, I just think it grounds me. It makes me more passionate to do what I want to do in life because it’s so finite. And I’m a planner and organizer by heart so it comforts me to know that I have planned for it all, even the end.
Anyway, mostly what motivated this post was because I went on a long hike in Boulder for the first time in a long time. I think the last time I went hiking was in China at Gubeikou. While I was hiking, I just contemplated a lot of things, such as death, and generally felt very happy so I wanted to write it out. And again, no. I’m not suicidal or depressed, I just felt like writing about this because I was thinking about this.
“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” -Seneca
Some more related things: