Death terrifies me. To think of the complete loss of all human experience — pure nothingness — grips me with a fear unlike any other. Sometimes, I’m amazed that I’m not constantly paralyzed by the thought of my eventual, certain death. Nonetheless, I’ve recently decided that I can’t run from it any longer. I have to face that sinking feeling in my stomach and the trembling in my bones. I want to have a relationship with death — perhaps a positive relationship even — so that I can make peace with my place in the universe.
How do we start to accept death? I believe it's a process of mourning while we are alive. We must let in all the sadness that comes with the tremendous loss that death is. We have to let the sadness in, then cry it out. We have to gather together and support each other in honestly facing our mortality. Let’s start talking about death more, rather than hiding from it. We are meant to mourn together; we draw strength from each other.
Grappling with death raises the hard questions we typically avoid. Why are we born just to die? What gives life meaning when everything is temporary? These questions can stir deep, powerful feelings of existential anguish. It’s one of the hardest human emotions, and I’ve experienced it time and again. Yet, I believe it’s worth the pain. Forming a relationship with death is a crucial part of living with eyes open to our truth, so that we can respect and cherish life fully.
Death reveals what is truly important in life. Facing it will teach you what you need to change. If you’re feeling a stirring inside right now, it’s a reminder that now is the time to be who you are meant to be. It’s a lifelong process, but we can start taking the steps today that are possible. All of us have a large spectrum of possibility in life — set your aim at the highest. Facing death will give you the strength, courage and motivation to reach it.
Reflecting on mortality puts life in perspective. From a perspective that sees life’s purpose, I can live in alignment with it and start to make my peace with death. Our life span serves a purpose to the greater process of life itself, even if that purpose is a mystery. We should each try to grasp life’s purpose in a way that resonates. I’ll offer you a seed of resonance I’ve discovered, in hopes it may blossom into something larger within you.
Even as death marks the end of my life, life itself continues, and my life will leave an imprint on how life unfolds. In some small way, every life impacts everything that follows. This is our immortality. Our lives shape the world to come and every life within it. As Walt Whitman wrote, “The powerful play goes on, and we may contribute a verse.”
We live in a world inhabited by the dead. They’re in the electricity that powers your screen right now, in the roads and buildings outside, in the foods you eat, and even in the words on this page. All those before us who dedicated their lives to freedom are still alive in the rights we enjoy today. Each life leaves its imprint.
What imprint will you leave? Living from this perspective gives life purpose. We can accept mortality and still feel a connection to the lives of the future. Whether they remember us or not, their lives will be what they are, in part, because of who we are today. We have an awesome responsibility, and privilege, to contribute to the expansion of freedom, of beauty, of peace, for all those who follow us. We can make of our lives an offering to life itself.
What is the highest expression of yourself that you can imprint on the world? Don’t limit yourself to stereotypical notions of greatness. Greatness is equally found in the work you do to improve your community, the care you give to those in need, or how you love your family. It’s a lifelong process of looking within and without to ask ourselves: what is the highest contribution I can make in this moment?
As this is the week of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, I highlight that we all have an opportunity to leave a uniquely important mark on the Earth. We can do what is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. We can do this by voting for the right politicians and by making the necessary changes to our own purchases, diet, travel and overall carbon footprint.
The generations that follow might not easily see the absence of fires, floods, famines and extinctions that we prevented. They might not readily notice our hand in the natural beauty we helped to preserve. But when they reflect on their lives as we are now, they will sense our continued presence. They too will feel the opportunity to shape a better world for the future. It will be an opportunity they inherited from us, just as we inherited it from those who came before.
Go out and live your life to the fullest. Accept that your life will end, but that life will go on carrying your imprint. All you stand for, all that you bring to life and nurture, all the wisdom and love you share — all of this becomes the inheritance of the future. Remember this: we become great when we plant trees, knowing that we will never feel their shade.