“This death thing… I’ve always been able to control the elements of my life, dominate my environment without hurting others. But this death business, I can’t beat it. I can’t win.” – Al Davis
The other day, Eric Turner, a player for the Oakland Raiders, died. He was 31. I was listening to some sports radio talk shows today, and the guy was saying how you don’t want to think about it, because you realize, you’re not that far from that age, and how the heck does cancer strike someone like that? It’s supposed to prey on the old, the weak, the infirm. How does it hit someone so young, in his prime, in peak physical condition? But it does. And he remarked, that’s something you don’t want to think about.
That comment absolutely fascinated me, because it’s totally true. Let me tell another true story.
A few years ago, I worked in this lab, and the lab was shared by two doctors, one of whom I was working for. The other was trying to clone this one gene, which, if successful, would get them published in an important journal, and likely generate a lot of revenue.
Anyway, this guy was crazy. He was there at 7 AM every morning, and stayed there until pretty late at night. He was really hands on, meaning he did a lot of the lab work himself, and he was just always there. It was insane.
So some time after I left, I found out that they were successful, and there was much celebration. He moved out of his house to an apartment, temporarily, so they could build a bigger house, or renovate it, or something to that effect. His wife had a baby. He had put in the hard work, and it was paying off.
Anyway, one day he was at the house, doing some work. His wife came out to check on him, and bring him something to drink, and found him resting in the car. She went to him, and his body was cold. It turns out he had suffered a fatal heart attack. Totally unexpected. He was relatively young, had a newborn baby, a new house, and had achieved what he worked so hard for, and just like that, he died.
I did a quick search on the web, and it turns out the gene they identified was a brain cancer gene, and it’s mentioned as one of the hot papers in cancer research. An award was established in his memorial.
Anyway, it was shocking when I found out, because it happened so suddenly, and I had known him, and it was absolutely unpredictable.
I don’t know. You don’t want to think about it, but the truth is, death comes to all of us, eventually, and to some of us sooner than later. And it just makes you wonder whether everything you’re doing is worth it. Like, was all the work that doctor did, all he sacrificed for, worth it? I don’t know if not doing it would have added any years to his life, but to me, it just makes me realize that earthly pursuits are ultimately fruitless.
So the comment the radio host made was really interesting, because it’s true – you don’t want to think about it. And I’m convinced that most people don’t think about it. Most people live as if they’ll live forever. And obviously, that’s denial of reality. I don’t know, some people aren’t down with it, but I think sometimes you have to force people to realize that eventually they’ll die, and consider whether what they’re doing is worth it, or what meaning there is in living knowing their ultimate destiny. Simply because it’s true.
And I don’t know how you can think about your own death without thinking about two things. Whether, if it turns out you’re fatally ill, you would have any regrets about how you’ve lived your life. And second, what the heck happens if you die. And to me, I don’t know how non-Christians think about stuff like that without going crazy. I know I go crazy myself sometimes, thinking about it. I’m not joking. Sometimes I think about stuff like how I’m going to die, how everyone dies, and it makes me really, severely depressed, because it’s just really hard for me to understand the point of life knowing this. I know this sounds strange, but I’m telling you, I’m borderline insane, and when sometimes when I think about philosophical metaphysical things, I get seriously depressed. I don’t understand how other people don’t, to be honest. It’s why I think most people just don’t think.
Anyway, I honestly think that if I were to die, I would have few regrets about how I lived. Like, there are little things, but in the big things, I don’t think I would have done too much differently. In the big things. I don’t know, just with stuff I’ve seen in my life, I’ve thought for a while about this – how I would feel about my life if I were to die today. It’s on my mind more than you would believe.
And, I think I’ve dealt with it by learning how not to regret. I’ve been highly influenced by Nietsche’s ideas of will to power in this regard. Just the idea that you should fully embrace everything that happens to you, that you experience, and that there is power in that. Living knowing I’m going to die hasn’t really made me live every moment like it’s my last, although maybe it should. What it has done more is make me be perfectly content with everything that happens to me, with no regrets about the big things in my life. I don’t know, I just find this a very powerful and freeing philosophy.
Some might remark how it’s convenient that this is a philosophy that lends itself more to be lazy. And that’s a fair criticism. But what I don’t think people totally get about me is that part (just part) of the reason that I’m lazy is because of what I believe. Like, that one influence I wrote about before, the desire to live a simple life. And the will to power thing. Again, I won’t deny that I’m lazy, but even some lazy people are ambitious. I’m ambitious in different ways, like I said because of what I think, and it keeps me from being a gunner in certain ways.
And I think I’m prepared to die also, meaning, I’m not afraid of death. I don’t even want to put it off. Relatedly, I’m not afraid of anyone else dying either. My biggest fears used to be that the people closest to me would either leave me or die. I don’t think it’s as strong anymore. But partly what that’s done is made me keep people at a certain distance. I definitely keep people away, so I think very few people really know me. I don’t know, that’s just part of who I am.
At any rate, I don’t think I would have been able to find peace in these things without being a Christian. I can’t even imagine it. I don’t know, I’ve really come to think recently that it’s not escapism, but essentially to think about heavenly things above earthly things. People criticize Christianity sometimes for being escapist, for not truly dealing with the world, but I don’t know, this just reflects a worldly attitude. I don’t see how you can recognize your mortality and still be sane without thinking about metaphysical, spiritual stuff, whatever that may be. Christianity is so great because it provides answers to all of these things.
Of course, no one should believe in Christainity because it’s comforting, and no one should believe in Christianity because it “works” practically. Although Christianity happens to be both comforting and practical. The great thing is, Christianity is true. I don’t know, that’s just great to me. I would commit suicide otherwise.
I don’t know. Other people get down on Christianity because people seem to accept it when they’re most desperate and need comfort, like when they’re about to die or something. But to me, I think these types of people are the ones who we should most look at. I mean, I think your thinking is clarified and you recognize what things are most important when you’re closest to death. So in my mind, the stuff that dying people think about must be the most important things in life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they think about the afterlife and spiritual things. Those are the most important things.
I say it over and over again, but I’m just really convinced that the vast majority of people just don’t think. They just exist and live their lives. And they think, sure, but they don’t deeply think about the most fundamental issues in life. And our society in particular is set up so that they don’t really have to; there’s enough to distract them and divert them so that thinking about these things isn’t really necessary. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that entertainment plays such a major role in American society. Like the radio guy said, you don’t want to think about stuff like that. And I think most people don’t.
Anyway, just remember you’re going to die, and deal with it. I guess that’s what I was reminded about today.