That Pesky Inevitable Mortality and The Role of Good Friends
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.” Annie Dillard
Y'all, the inside of my head has been so fun lately. Because I’ve been thinking about death. Not in a “call the sanitarium” sort of way. I’ve just been thinking about how to get more comfortable with the idea. How to not deny the inevitable and use my time and my thoughts and my life as best I can.
Maybe it’s because I work at a school and schools are a favorite venue for mass shooters to enact their rage.
Maybe it’s because the one-year death-iversary of one of my favorite people in the world, my maternal grandmother, was on October 30, and then there was Halloween, and then, in my part of the world, Dia De Los Muertos. Maybe it’s because I actually wrote a piece in which I ambitiously tried to tie together the threads of my grandmother’s badassery in the face of death and the Dia De Los Muertos tradition of another badass I interviewed and my own experiences with death and food.
Maybe it’s because I’m 40 there’s a gut-based recognition that I’ve more or less reached the halfway point. And even without that gut-based recognition, the journalists are telling me I should be upset. Maybe it’s because I’m still in denial about Tom Petty.
I’m not trying to bring the party down.
I’m actually trying to get really comfortable with mortality (my own and that of people I love) because comfortable or not, it’s real. This is one reason I’m drawn to Dia De Los Muertos. I’m not trying to appropriate a tradition that belongs to my Latino friends and husband and son. I’m saying—“hey, here’s a way to get comfortable with death and celebrate life. And also to share with my son the stories of his great-grandparents. Let me observe, respectfully.” So since I’m American and we do capitalism really well, I bought this shirt and started wearing it to bed. I also bought my son a book about Dia De Los Muertos and took him to a Dia De Los Muertos celebration in our city.
Is anyone else grappling with this? I bet you are.
I’ve started watching my thoughts and my time, though I still waste both. Yesterday I was chatting with a girlfriend about something someone did that bothered me. She mentioned a similar scenario from a few years ago that bothered me then. I did not remember it. I repeat: I called a close friend (who dutifully catalogues my bullshit) a few years ago to bitch about someone, and yesterday I didn’t remember what that was about. I wasted not only my own thoughts, but also my friend’s time talking about it.
You’ve done it too, I know. Let’s try to stop, but maybe not beat ourselves up when we fail.
When I was an undergrad and switched my major from International Business (!!!) to English, it was all because of a passionate professor who taught a required literature survey course. She did close readings of Bob Dylan lyrics and introduced me to Flannery O’Connor. (I want to know now: Who in that class DIDN’T immediately change their major to English?)
The first time I read O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” was for this life-changing, major-changing class. Sorry to spoil it for y'all, but at the end of that story, the Misfit, after killing the sanctimonious grandmother, says, “She would have been a good woman, if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
The point Professor Life-Changer made in that survey course when we discussed the story was basically (I am paraphrasing here—it’s been 20+ years), “Okay, true. But we none of us can live our lives ALL THE TIME like we have a gun pointed in our direction, or like we just received a cancer diagnosis. It’s just not possible.”
Critiquing every decision, every useless thought, every wasted hour is just as much of a draw on your energy as the actual wasted hour or thought you are regretting. It’s a regret/time-wasting death spiral.
You don’t have to be #blessed. But try to do better. As Michelle Obama said to all the men, “Y'all should get you some friends,” a few life accountability partners, to snap you out of your bullshit, preferably with humor, so you can get back to kicking ass—or doing nothing.