Everybody poops, everybody dies. These are two truths about being alive. While each of them might sound scary at first, it becomes a lot less scary once you understand the process. The first time a baby recognizes that it pooped, a sensation of fear will wash over it. Think about it from the baby’s perspective. You just found something that smells bad and it came out of you! If I didn’t know any better, I might freak out too.
This was such a common problem that a book was written for parents to calm their young children called “Everyone Poops.” The book let’s the baby know that it’s okay to poop because everybody does it. It’s a natural part of life and nothing to be afraid of. The baby accepts this fact and moves on, fearless for next time.
Unfortunately, “Everybody Dies” probably isn’t the title of a book you would want to buy or read to your children if you saw it on a shelf. Even though death is just as natural of an occurrence as pooping, it takes a lot longer for a person to accept the fact that they are going to die. Some people never accept their own death, even when it is happening!
We can understand, like the baby, that pooping is a necessary part of eating. Likewise, it’s important to understand that dying is a necessary part of living. Knowing that it will happen just gives us more reason to enjoy the time before we die.
In fact, you already deal with death much more than you know. When you look at a person, everything you see, besides the eyes, is already dead. Your hair and skin cells remain attached to you after they die as an extra layer of protection so your living cells don’t have to face the outside environment. If you have ever dusted your bedroom, you are collecting and removing thousands of your dead cells to throw away in the trash. You’re a lot more comfortable with death than you realized.
Death is inherently scary because of the uncertainty that is synapsed to it. We all know that we will die someday but when, how, where, and why are all unknown. Couple that with the uncertainty of what happens afterward and death is sure to stimulate some fear. While I cannot tell you when, how, where or why you will die, I can tell you what happens afterward and it may help to ease your fears.
You are a living organism made up of water and carbon, woven into complex organic molecules. When you die, your water and carbon will not stay in the same form forever. We adapted as part of an ecosystem and, although we’ve created a society, we are still bound to our role in the ecosystem. When we die, our carbon is transferred between organisms as your body is eaten by scavengers or decomposers. Those organisms will go on to die as well and their carbon, part of which was at one point yours, will be transferred to yet more organisms that will all inevitably die.
Here’s where we need to define “ourselves.” You are an organism capable of thinking and your experiences and DNA make you unique among all other living things. However, when you think of yourself, do you think of your thoughts? Do you think of your cells? Do you think of the molecules that make up those cells? Do you think of the atoms that make up the molecules?
I want you to think of yourself as carbon because atoms never die. Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, only converted to different forms. That means that your atoms have lasted billions of years, formed in the heart of a star and temporarily taking the form of organisms or part of the Earth itself.
You are nothing more than a temporary configuration of carbon atoms and miraculously, this configuration has the ability to think. On top of that, you are currently a member of a species that has reached a global society and entered into a new Information Age causing progress to move faster than ever before! When your consciousness finally leaves you for good and your atoms disperse to become part of something else, you can know that you had the privilege of being a human living right now.
While death is a scary subject when thinking about your own, it can be very painful to think about someone else’s. When a loved one dies, we often miss being able to talk with them and the difference between reality and our expectations causes us grief. However, a simple change in perspective can remove the pain of loss.
Technically, you do not know anyone including your loved ones. Rather, you only know the characters that you’ve created for that person. The closer you are with a person, the more accurately your character depicts the real person but you cannot truly know anyone like you know yourself. If you accept that your loved ones are merely characters that you’ve created, they cannot die until you do! While their physical body may die, you have the ability to “keep them alive” in your mind. You can talk with them and anticipate their responses, you can ask them questions to receive your own advice in the form of their wisdom.
We reach eternity when the characters of those who came before us are remembered by those who come after us. Although Galileo lived and died many years ago, he is still alive today in the minds of anyone who has learned about him. Granted, we have no way to know if our character of him actually resembled who he was but he lives on regardless.
When someone dies, we often claim that their spirit stays with us; it is not their spirit that remains, it is our character. You can always choose to hang out with the characters that you’ve made, even if the real person isn’t here anymore.