As I sit here in my overstuffed chair I gaze across the beautiful valley in which I live, taking in the gorgeous way the autumn paints the hills and hollows with an amber aura and gives it that vibrant crispness which makes the fall my most treasured season, I take a break from my reading.* I drink in my warm, deliciously comforting oolong tea to think about something, which, in our society is, although imminent, a certainty for all — omnipresent, yet taboo. This something is death. Death is firmly embraced by a conspiracy of silence. We like to ignore it and pretend it will not happen to us. We frolic in the imagining that its grip will touch no one we know. We and those around us are immune, so we like to pretend. It is taboo to speak of, for doing so brings pain to the mind while shattering the illusion of our immortality. I am going to break this taboo and conspiracy of death.
I live in a picturesque little town of about 300 people on the Snake River canyon. It has a wonderful name: Bliss. If you want to get an idea of what it looks like, the photo in this article is a view from the deck of my house in Bliss. I have lived in many places in the world: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boise, and Germany. But I have always found myself returning to this little town. I have a certain love for it that I will have for no other place on our vast planet. Bliss embodies the dictionary definition of “quaint”. It is the kind of place where everyone knows your business before you do. We can’t and don’t have secrets. My fellow inhabitants think I am pretty strange as I am the only gay, Buddhist, vegetarian who practices yoga and meditation in at least 100 miles. Regardless, this place is home and I am proud to have grown up here. There is a ubiquitous sense of community and we all realize that, in somewhere so tiny, we are all interconnected and continuously depend on one another. Bliss is populated with some of the kindest souls and warmest hearts who live simple lives doing simple things like ranching and farming. Surely you’ve eaten one of the potatoes grown here during your previous visit to McDonald’s.
Now, you may wonder, what do my verbose painting of my hometown and the silent conspiracy of death have in common? Oddly, we seem to have been, for some reason or another, a recent tourist attraction for Death’s cold hands. I remember the gentle, handsome 23 year old man, Hunter, who was struck and killed by a car on the freeway after he had exited his own car, which had broken down. His mother, Natalie, is a friend of mine and has been a cashier at my family’s convenience store for 8 years. Then there was Bailee, the extremely respectful 17 year old, possessed of a strikingly beautiful smile who loved to ride his dirt bike. His mother and I went to high school together and she graduated in the class one year above me. She comes to our convenience store daily for Mountain Dew. Our latest casualty was Rachel. She was a 43 year old mother and rancher who had a heart attack in her sleep and aspirated because of difficulties related to bronchitis. She ate at my restaurant almost daily. She loved chicken wraps and sirloin steaks. Two of her daughters have worked as waitresses for us.
Death has been to our town and brought with it the realization of life’s finitude. It reminds us that, in essence, it is one of the many things that makes us human and it provides our lives a meaning unparalleled by anything else. Because of death’s certainty, we are forced to live with the knowing that we are here to bask in all the beauty that life can offer. This has called us to face the real possibility that death can, and indeed does, come at any time. It does not knock. It does not ask for permission. It does not tell us when it is coming, but it always does. It will come to each of us. This is a certitude of life. Let this certitude not depress you but empower you. Let this certitude fill you and the life you have yet to live with vibrance. Know that, in life, you possess the most powerful gift that the universe can offer.
Dance. Dance gloriously. Create. Create with abandon. Dream. And live those dreams. Let those dreams take you to the furthest reaches of your imaginings. The gift that death gives us is not sadness, but realization of our light, our resplendence, our beauty, and the ecstasy of being human.
Rather than allowing death to be something dreaded, let death be a reminder. Allow it to let you know that we, the living, are here to imbue our lives with love, beauty, curiosity, and adventure. I invite you to let it remind you to spend the time you have in joy with those who bring smiles to your heart. I invite you to remember that, in the end, it is the simple things that are meaningful and important: Our time. Our light. Our ecstasy. Our creativity. Our adventure. Our families. Our friends. Remember.
This, not despair, is the invitation of death’s beauty and certainty.
*I am currently reading a wonderful book, Happy, which I highly recommend. It was the inspiration for this post and was written by the exceedingly talented, enchanting, intelligent, and sexy British illusionist, hypnotist, and mentalist, Derren Brown.
Originally published at www.scottgoolsby.com