I think it is healthy for the soul to visit a cemetery every now and then, just to remind yourself of the briefness of life.
Or, if you do not live near a cemetery—I myself do, in fact, but I can’t access it—then I recommend searching on Google images for photographs of skeletons, in graves, in museum display cases, excavated, propped up on stands in clinics. Granted, it’s a macabre way to spend your Saturday afternoon, but it’s worth the perspective it brings. Better yet, for the less easily disturbed, watch a documentary on burials. Recently I watched one about the rising costs of burial in Greece, which were leading many to choose cremation, with some even opting to ask medical schools to accept the dead bodies of the relatives because they could not afford to have them properly buried or cremated.
You see, sometimes, in life, we fall asleep. It happens to everyone. We forget what is important in life, and what is not. Our priorities tilt out of balance. We slowly slip into a groove, whereby we push death to the back of our minds, and ease into comfortable forgetfulness, the days vanishing one after another like used wishes. Letting the reality of your own mortality pierce your consciousness, then, is rather like giving the lenses of a pair of glasses a good rub before putting them back on to see the world and life a little clearer than you did before.
Some people go through their entire lives asleep, on auto-pilot, doing what they must do to work and get money, then spending the rest of their time devoted to empty pleasures, sex, food, entertainment, and soon, before they know it, they are lying in a hospital bed, staring up at the white ceiling and wondering where their life went.
And there is nothing particularly wrong with that. For some, a life devoted to short-term pleasure is what will bring happiness. But for most, a greater purpose is needed to feel fulfilled in life. Otherwise, the act of living becomes the dull business of dragging a bag of skin and bones from one senseless task to another, and if that goes on for long enough, people end up perishing by their own hands.
Though you might disagree, I don’t think having children, a family, a loving spouse, is enough to truly satisfy a person, give them the reason to wake up each day and go on living. Perhaps it’s just me, but I believe that anything that exists or comes from outside of ourselves can never make us happy, and that includes loved ones, no matter how perfect they are. Like most important things in life, fulfillment is a personal affair, soft and silent. Often there are no accolades, no external affirmation—after all, someone can be showered with praise by the world yet still feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled in life. To truly gauge whether you are engaging yourself in fulfilling tasks, at the end of each day, as you lie in bed on the verge of sleep, listen to your heart. If it is quiet, satisfied—not necessarily content—then you are living a path in alignment with who you are, and if not, then there is no better way to swerve back onto this path than by reminding yourself that one day it will end.
I mean, we’re all secretly or openly terrified of death. I can’t stand the thought of the flesh rotting on my bones, nor can I stand the thought of the same happening to anyone in my family, anyone I know, or, well, just anyone, really, even a stranger walking by on the street. It makes me want to scream. I don’t like the mystery of death, the feeling that it seems to neutralize all the meaning gathered up by humans over the course of their lifetimes, reducing it to a matter of carbon, calcium, animal-flesh, empty of the soul, the wit, the spirit. I hate Death, in fact, because the thought nags at me, no matter how hard I try to bat it away, that everything we do to draw a curtain over the abyss—creating Art for joy and for prosperity, helping people, doing wonderful things in order to be remembered—is illusory, made up by humans to protect themselves from the horrific business of existing and then not-existing.
But it’s not, I think. In the end, it’s not meaningless. It’s not, because you and I exist, and every second we benefit from the efforts of people who existed before us, from the appliances we use around our home to the books we read. Human civilisation lies on a great mound of corpses, there is no doubt about that, but without those corpses we, today, would not be so close to the sun, bathing in its light and the warmth. Meaning and happiness comes from doing what benefits others but also brings joy to and pleases you. Scientists and writers and inventors and engineers and artists throughout history did not work only to help the species; they toiled because they liked and wanted to, and were curious and inspired, the benefits conferred upon humanity merely a by-product of their passion and determination.
So, yes, unfortunately, one day, you and I, and everyone who exists in this moment, will die, and be nothing more than corpses, bones, flesh, skin, hair, organs, meat, just like everyone who has died before us. Thus, if becoming a corpse is inevitable, you might as well be a useful one, and contribute to the pile of bodies, lift humanity a few inches higher for you having existed, instead of being scattered around the mound’s base to be picked clean by the vultures, useless bones baked brittle in the sun—even if, in the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do. But it’d be nice if you did do something. If that makes sense.
Therefore, play your part, sing your song, dance your dance, do your job, and then exit the stage. That is all there is to it. More will spring up into being after you, and they, I believe, are you, too, all of us one gigantic consciousness, falling and rising; so would it not be wonderful for them to benefit from the work you did when you lived, just as you benefited from the work others did while you lived?
Feel the sunlight. It is warm, and bright, and beautiful, and we will rise, higher and higher, towards the sun, our arms reaching for a golden eternity while we trample on the bones and flesh we will one day become.