I’ve always known time was finite. At seven or eight years old, I became obsessed with the idea of time and what happens when it runs out. I used to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night, tiptoe to the tiny bathroom shared by our family of six, crawl up into the sink and peer at myself in the mirror. I’d lean in close, staring until my face became unrecognizable, the face of anybody, of nobody. You are going to die some day, I’d whisper to my reflection. You are going to die some day, a little louder with more conviction.
As the truth sunk in, I’d pull down the skin on my cheeks, look at my eyeballs and wonder how they stayed in my head. I’d turn my face and try to see inside my ear, open my mouth and examine my tongue. My fingers massaged my cheeks, my forehead, feeling the bone underneath.
I’d squint at the reflection in the mirror until all I could see was my skull. I watched the skin melt off my face, my hair disappear. My pre-adolescent brain struggled to grasp the concept of death. How could my thoughts, these very thoughts I was having now, just…not exist anymore? How could it be that my lifeless body remains, but the thoughts in my head disappear? Where do they go?
I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was terrified of not existing. Of losing my thoughts, of being incapable of thought. Even then, my mind lived independently from my body.
Sometimes the episodes lasted minutes, sometimes hours. When my face started looking like my face again, I’d crawl down from the sink and climb back into the bed I shared with my sister Tessa. I’d listen to her breathing and try to mimic it, quiet my mind and lull myself back to sleep.
In my adult years, I learned Tessa used to sneak out of our room and do a similar contemplative death dance. We must have been on slightly different omg, what happens when you die schedules, which is a bummer, because it would have been nice to talk through those thoughts with someone. I can’t recall when those bathroom trips stopped. Maybe they never really did. I still have a thing for sitting in sinks.
While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last summer, I listened to hours upon hours of pent-up podcasts. G and I memorized the words to basically every advertisement on every podcast ever. Some episodes went in and out the ears, others we’d share on breaks as we stuffed PB&J&M&M tortillas into our mouths. Did you know back in the day, Edison based electric bills on how many light bulbs a person had? NOoooooooOO, JOHN B. MACKLEMORE DIED????
One episode in particular, The Tim Ferriss Show in which he interviews Cheryl Strayed, really hit home. Not because I was hiking the PCT and Strayed hiked some of the PCT and wrote a book about it, but because she mentions how she thinks about mortality on a daily basis, to which I can totally relate. Though I don’t think so much about mortality (anymore) as I do about the fact I am alive.
Tim explains how every time he gets on an airplane, he has the same thought: Would I be okay if I died right now? And not in the I’m totally cool with dying way, but in the, am I happy with my life right now kind of way. Am I focusing my attention in the right places? Am I headed in the direction I want to be headed? If the answer is no, it’s probably time to reevaluate priorities.
As I walked along, it was as if the two of them were sitting in my head, directly addressing some of the thoughts they saw floating around. I ask myself these things every time I look out the tiny window of a plane. And I fly a lot.
But you don’t have to wait until you board a plane to ask yourself these questions. I mean, they’re pretty important.
Would you be okay if you died right now?