“Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
I joke about how this tiny speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the only thing I ever memorized which I still remember. We were required to put this tidbit to memory in Mrs. Feldman’s 7th grade English class, yet in the last 30 years, I’ve recited these 46 words hundreds of times without truly understanding them.
I have been that coward for three decades, wincing in the face of fear, shortchanging myself out of living as fully as I could have.
It wasn’t until this morning, when my brain, subconsciously still processing Tuesday’s therapy session, sent me this bit of Shakespeare as if on a stone tablet from up above. I spent a majority of my hour discussing death with my brain PhD therapist. She wanted me to dive into my fear of death, something that’s plagued me since fourth grade, when I used to be scared of closing my eyes at night, afraid I wouldn’t wake up the next day. The therapist started out by pointing out how death is inevitable and as someone who is even more anxious about wasting time than of imminent death, I had to realize I was wasting time terrorized by the inevitable. This ironic irrationality stopped me in my tracks. If I was terrified of snakes, I could technically avoid them, but there was nowhere I can go where I can avoid death.
I’ve learned the best ammunition we have against the Grim Reaper is to live as hard as we can every fucking day because no matter how cliche, none of us can predict our last day.
After I divulged to the therapist that the pain and suffering associated with death is not what I’m actually nervous about, she asked me what it was and I realized it wasn’t that I was scared; I just didn’t want to. This critical, yet minor differentiation and clarification, alters which hormones my brain secretes in reaction. My brain reacts differently to “I don’t want to leave the party” than it does to “I’m afraid of leaving the party.” There is nothing scary about leaving a party, I just don’t want to miss out. This is called “FOMO: Fear of Missing Out,” and we have scheduled to discuss this in next week’s session.
The clock continues to tick as loudly as ever for me. As the days flip on the calendar, I age, and no matter how much I write, or how successful I am, it feels insufficient. While I’m trying to savor it all, it’s slipping away faster than I can hold onto it. I may be on my way to easing my fear of death, but I can’t imagine ever coming to terms with leaving the party of life. I just don’t want to.