If I told you to imagine that you had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and then asked you to write about your fictional life, your words would likely be dark, helpless and regretful. You might talk about the fear that you were feeling, either about leaving this world or the people that you would be leaving behind. Or, you might share your regrets about all of the things you wish you had done while you had the time.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with my own mortality. My fear of death – and the anxiety that came with it – was so strong when I was a teenager that I honestly thought it would drive me insane.
At times, my mind would spin out of control as I struggled with the concepts of time, death and consciousness. I would just sit there in my car, staring into space, as the world around me faded into darkness and my mind circled the void in ever tightening circles.
Fear is one of the most useful feelings that we possess. Its entire purpose is to keep us safe by helping us to avoid danger.
For most of human history, our fears have related to direct threats to our lives – tigers hiding in bushes, poisonous plants and violent storms spring to mind. But, as civilization has developed, so too has the complexity with which we view the world. Our dreams and fears have become more abstract and our primitive brains have struggled to separate fact from fiction.
For many, death is like a dark shadow, lurking just over the next hill. These people feel its touch, even if they cannot see its presence. Ironically, the more we fear death, the more we forget to live.
In talking with the members of our community, I have learned that true peace comes from understanding our place in the world and this is impossible without accepting our own mortality.