Monday, August 25, 2008

Hand-in-Hand - Death and No Worries

"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."
-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

WARNING!! This entry will come off a bit morbid, maybe even a bit suicidal, but I can assure you with the utmost sincerity that it is meant to be the polar opposite. Read the whole thing and see if you can relate (there's a LOT going on in this post)...then leave a comment - I want to hear your thoughts.

I've watched Fight Club four times in the past couple weeks. I was recently reminded of its existence and proceeded to buy it last Thursday. The reminder comes at an interesting time in my life, considering the messaging behind the movie: I've now entered the 9-5 white-collar world of public relations/marketing/advertising that the movie preaches against, sacrificing 40 hours a week to "buy shit we don't need." Makes you wonder...

Secretly I've always wanted to have a near-death experience (well, not so secretly anymore). I want to know what it's like to teeter on that precipice, ready to plummet into the darkness below, away from life, love, videogames, and everything one holds dear. I want to experience the stark relief, the utter happiness, and the settling calm that follow. I want to feel the absolute fear of death, and then perhaps the calming feeling of resignation, and then maybe the sheer elation one can only know in the seconds before death, realizing your last moments are upon you.

What would be passing through my mind in those moments that will seem to last forever and yet comprise only seconds?

Would I feel the last breath of wind on my face? Would I notice the single drop of sweat trickling down my back between the gap of a loose shirt and my skin? Would I think of a beautiful red-haired girl's smile? Would I want to call my parents and tell them I love them? Maybe I would wish I could have published a book or gone skydiving. Maybe I would have been pissed.

When I die I want to die in the vicinity of no one (notice I don't say "alone"). I want to experience the passing of life into death fully conscious. I realize that I would probably be terrified, but I feel that's the ultimate test for the living - put simply, to die well....allow me to readjust the first sentence in this paragraph..."When I die I want to die in the vicinity of no one who is also dying." In that sense I want my death to be a solitary event - like Owen Meany's death. If there are others around me dying I'll be torn between trying to savor my last few breaths of life and trying to help or comfort them. Call me selfish...

Beginning of my junior year I thought I was going to die - and soon. I was sitting at my desk writing when this feeling just came over me. It didn't have anything to do with what I was writing. I just felt something in my core that told me the sand was running out. And you know what?

It felt good.

The most supreme sense of calm swept over me for the next two weeks. I enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on my skin for the first time in months, maybe years. I loved going to work and exploring who my co-workers really were. I literally remember walking out the door to my crappy, leaning house and onto the porch, feeling what I thought was the most comfortable temperature I've ever felt. I had a dignified ease about me that I've failed to recreate ever since.

I've always had a fascination with the Japanese samurai and the concept of "bushido," a doctrine of living that, stripped down to its bare essence, meant to live every second of your life as if you're about to die. It sounds morbid, but it's completely and utterly refreshing if you can truly grasp the concept. You feel life with every step you take in a dirty subway tunnel, with every keystroke on your computer, with every touch of the steering wheel, with every blade of grass that bends beneath the soles of your feet. Always striving for self-realization and self-perfection. These are concepts that we as a society claim to pursue, but few really do. Very few achieve self-realization, and the most minute percentage achieve self-perfection.

This is what the concept of enlightenment is based around. I think in our society, though, very few of us will actively pursue it until we have that near-death experience. We have to feel life's tentative hold nearly slip before we can really grasp what it is to live. Yes, most people will claim they've been able to truly live based on their past experiences and pre-conceived notions of what it means to live...but have they really?

I don't know. I write this an unenlightened fool, versed in the pampered prose of Suburbia, America, not having ever really known what it's like to come within a hairsbreadth of death. I don't know what it is to be desperate, truly desperate. I've felt depression before and am better off for it, but emotions are relative by nature. For some, every feeling and emotion is "the best," "the worst," "the most awesome," "the strongest" or "the weakest." While I think it is important to feel the extremes at various points in our lives, it's even more important to find Confucius's Golden Mean, or the Buddhist "Middle Way." So I can't really say that I know what it is to feel desperate or depressed, when others have experienced much worse times than I ever will.

However, one important quality I think we must have is the ability to recognize this perception of our personal experiences for what it is - REALITY. Realize that your own experiences are merely one minute perspective in this grand scheme we call life. To be able to identify with other perspectives, you can realize that, in Carrie Underwood's words, "that mountain you've been climbing is just a grain of sand." That's why I'm so laid back - many times to the point that others perceive it as not caring, or as a weakness within me, whereas I realize the strength of it. To have the ability to see a person's problems for what they are:
- something to be laughed at
- something to be appreciated
- something from which to learn
- something to make light of
- something to not worry about because, in the end, it is what it is, making the present moment the most amazing moment in our short lives

As a good friend of mine might say, Hakuna Matata.

Oh what a wonderful phrase!


Eddie Rosenbaum said...

Hey Jeff-
I really liked this post. Sometimes death is the closest thing to living as anything else could be. I was in the emergency room this summer and for the first 48 hours the doctors didn't know what was wrong but all thought it was very serious. I sat alone up until 4 am thinking this could be it. I couldn't help but to question all my values and how I have dealt with life up until that point. I ended up being ok.. it was strep in a rare form that attacked my legs and could have been fatal. Anyways, I left the hospital and had that same feeling you described... the air felt warmer and all the little "problems" in my life seemed to disappear because of a new outlook on life. I realized in the most positive way that..."life is not that important". Though this may sound pessimistic I mean it in a sense of overlooking your problems and focusing on the basic essentials of life. I have all my senses and I am loved and have love for others. I now think I take on challenges with a new perception- I disregard the stress or pressure that may be involved, and give it my best try.
Sorry for this ramble... I just saw your post on facebook and reading this blog made me think about this topic again. I also had a near death experience when I went sky-diving with your brother (who always would talk about fight club) Landing on the Earth again was quite an eye opener to say the least! haha Tell Jim I said hi, I had good times with him out in Cali!
Your blog is very interesting and inspiring.

Matt Barnes said...

Wow, i really don't want to follow that comment, but I will.

I have had many near-death experiences (7am IM Meetings)...okay, not really but I completely understand and agree where you are coming from in the whole post. I've always thought the same when I hear of people who get that "second chance" in life. I am a big fan of second chances in anything, hence why I was such a bad disciplinarian as SD. But yeah, I don't know if a near-death experience is what I need. A moment like Sept. 11th immediately made me start considering my life. Same goes every time I hear of a friend/co-worker/former classmate that dies at such an early age. So yeah, that's why I try my best to stick to that Hakuna Matata motto. I know sometimes I waver but it really does help one lead a fuller life. Like you kind of put in your post, live every minute like its your last. Spend that time worrying about something you can;t control and well, you're wasting time. Great post buddy. Nice to have ya back.

Mister Keenan said...

Enjoyed this musing. Made me hop scotch over to Amazon and look for a book on bushido. But also made me realize: 1) I have never thought to seek a near death experience; and 2) having said that, I have watched someone I loved die up close and personal and humbly presume this is about as real a near death experience as anyone could ever dream to have.

On a related note, I hope you never have to live (or die) #2 above.

I also hope you continue to push your mind into the shadow. Or not, whatever. It's all just a ride.

Take care, be sound. And create.

Liv said...

So, other than this blog post being a lot of STUFF to absorb and think about and philosophize, I let it soak in and can conclude that if I were to really feel a near-death experience, I would probably come to appreciate every moment of my life in an outstanding way thereafter. However, after a little time passed and I kind of shook the experience off so to speak, I would probably resort back to old habits and not live my life through the way you alluded to- appreciating and really "feeling" each and every step, glance, touch, etc, etc. I feel like time would be the enemy. So, while it's really reviving to think about what it would be like to die today, I feel like, as humans, we constantly have to remind ourselves that we only get one life to live...and if I were to die today, I'd probably be kind of pissed becuase I haven't fulfilled everything I want to thus far...on the other hand, I'd have a lot to be thankful for too. So, what I'm saying is...I don't know, I don't know, I just don't know.

Luke said...


Great post as always, well written and well thought out. As far this particular post, I am a big fan of "it is what it is." You can control what you can control and that is it. For me, death falls under the category of things I can't control. Sure you can eat healthy, exercise, and all that jazz to increase your time, but it can be taken away so quickly. I don't know, maybe I'm rambling on, but my philosophy has always been to get as many experiences possible. The greatest risk is not taking one OR Impossible is nothing. Things like that. Sure you can get burnt, but so what? Through those experiences we learn about ourselves and those around us as well. We grow, we learn, we live.

I've never had a near-death experience, but the ultimate irony is that every day we live is actually a day closer to our death. Our very first breath is actually the beginning of our death. So, to sum this huge comment up, live your life, and live it well. Go browns.

Jess Donlon said...

Philosophizing Hirz,

Have to agree with the post I follow... It is what it is, and it always has been . I think reactions are the coolest thing to watch in people. The emotions and actions that follow, if you can see them, tell you a lot about that person. It's always though, to me at least, harder to be aware of your own.

While I am an adventurous girl, I also have some smarts and have yet to be in a really life-threatening situation.

However, this made me think about a recurring nightmare I have. Have you ever had a bad dream, one you thought was real? Then when you wake up it's as if you are so relieved it was not real that you almost completely forget its chaos! Anywho - why doesn't that wake us up and make the world better? And why does it have to be better always - sometimes cheapens the stark beauty of what is unfolding as we unfold to realize it. Hmm... This post is a muse. So are you.