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A time for many little deaths

© Paul-andrĂ© Belle-isle | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I've been thinking a lot about death and dying recently, in the months since an uncle I had met only as a baby, one who shared a nickname with my father, passed away. That was late last year, and after that news followed news of more passing young friends, friends of friends, family of friends.

I've always been curious about death and dying, influenced largely by movies like Stand By Me, Flatliners, and My Girl, and in part by my first best friend's father dying outside the house next door when I was around eight years old. I remember looking inside his coffin and seeing the permanence of his passing and looking at my friend, wondering what would happen next.

I don't want to die and I don't want anyone to die, but this is the one thing of all the things I anticipate that I am certain is coming. How does that line from the musical Avenue Q go? "Except for death and paying taxes, everything in life is only for now."

On good days, I think of making the most out of the time I have, of spreading joy and love and delighting in the littlest of things, like discovering a cheap Vietnamese restaurant in Manila that serves great ca phe sua da.

On bad days, I consider all my efforts to thrive amid the looming undeniable inevitability of all my work, huge and small alike, hurtling towards nothing.

On really bad days, I can think of nothing but that nothingness hurrying backwards in time, meeting me halfway. I want it to come, and come quickly, despite that familiar fear of my life, at its end, not amounting to anything.

The days have been mostly good, thank God. I have done plenty of living. I have loved deeply. I have enjoyed a million meaningful moments. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, I slept for three days on the beach, covered only by a blanket of stars. For those three days I was nothing but grateful, and I felt that it was enough.

The bad days (and the really bad days) are nothing that good coffee or some ice cream can't cure.

And yet this weekend, hearing again news of someone's passing, I took a hard look at my life and saw that despite all the good days, I have been slowly inching away from many of the things I care about.

Who died and made you me? I asked myself.

I didn't like the answer.

Also this weekend, I came across Amber Tamblyn's commencement speech on my Facebook timeline. She talks about crashing and needing to take a mental break, and then coming across a realization:
On the other side of this time in my life came revelation. Yeats once said, “In order to be reborn, you must die first.” I realized that all along, what I had craved and explored indeed was happening right before my very eyes. Le Petit Mort. A Small Death. A part of me was dying, like shedding skin. I realized that life would forever be a series of shedding skins, some more painful than others. 
And she closes with this:
Some form of this experience I’ve shared with you today will happen to you. It might be next Thursday; it might be when you’re 80. I want to say, simply, that it’s going to be okay. That when you start to panic, and feel like you want to throw a thousand teacups against a wall, shed that skin. When you want to run away from it all, shed that skin. When you want to float in your own darkness until you feel you might drown, shed that skin. When you want to turn your world upside down and see what falls out of it, shed that skin. When you want to tell someone “no” but haven’t figured out how to yet, shed that skin. When it’s time to enforce boundaries between you and the “you” that thinks you’re not good enough, shed that skin. When you want to wear fluorescent pink hot pants to the mall because, look at you, you’re amazing! Shed that skin that prevents you from wearing that skin. Have that revelation, and then have it again, and again, and again.
I understand now that this is the death I have been wanting. The idea of starting over again (and again, when necessary), and leaving forever the part of me that is dead, or even, dying.


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