I’m not afraid to die.
Seriously I’m not, but death still scares the hell out of me.
When I was 18, I had the profound experience of wrecking a motorcycle at 85 miles an hour off a cliff on Mary’s Peak, the highest point in Oregon’s Coastal Mountain Range. While my motorcycle hit a curb and flipped up in the air and over the cliff’s edge, I missed the curb, hit the grass, flipped onto my hands and feet and slid to a stop one foot from the edge. I stood up. The rider behind me, who thought I’d gone over, said it was as if I’d been resurrected.
It was a resurrection of sorts. I call September 7th, 1991 my second birthday. While I was sliding toward the cliff-edge, I thought, “Well, this is it. I guess I’m going to find out what death is.” At that moment, a profound peace overwhelmed me. I’ve since come to understand it as a kind of forced Zen state in which I fully accepted my fate.
When I realized I was still alive, I knew my life had changed but couldn’t quite articulate how. I didn’t have an epiphany or feel a need to connect with those I love. I simply felt different. As the years passed, however, I came to realize that I no longer feared dying.
Being fearless is not being stupid. I didn’t take bigger risks, in fact I took fewer deadly risks (such as racing motorcycles on open roads), because I valued my life so much more. Since that time I can sit still, feel my heart beating, and understand that each beat is one fewer I have to live by. In accepting the end and returning from that precipice, I understand how precious our living days are, and how we must get the most from them. Being alive is a dazzling gift to which we are not entitled.
The trouble I have is not with my own death but with others’. I’ve never truly faced the loss of someone close to me. I’ve lost grandparents, but we grew up distant. Our family has lost friends, and a kid I knew in high school died in a car crash
, but I’ve not lost someone sincerely dear to my heart. I’ve never had to face true grief. It scares the hell out of me because I’m standing at the cusp of it now. In some way, we all are.
I may be fearless when it comes to my own death, as I’ve seen the peace that lies at its doorway; but for someone else, when I go on living, the loss scares me so much I can barely think of it. I know I have only one choice, though: face it head on, survive it, and do the best I can by those I love who are still here.
When I “roughed in” this post, I was thinking of my old lab, Tank, who was downstairs as I wrote. I didn’t know then how I would handle the loss of a dear friend. Today, as I edit this post, he is gone, and I know what it means to lose someone dear. I miss him terribly, but I am so grateful for having had him in my life. He taught me a great many things, the final lesson being how to face grief. May you rest in that deep peace friend.