Grinning at Death

sunsetOver the past few years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whenever the topic of death comes up in conversation, I end up grinning like a fool at the thought of my own demise. I had to sit myself down just recently and tease out exactly what was going on.

I’ve concluded that I’m not any more senile than I’ve always been. And I’m not exactly anticipating death or accumulating habits or hobbies that would accelerate its arrival. This strange response to the mention of death seems to be a function of 1) my affinity for risk, 2) my definition of success, 3) the wealth of amazing memories I’ve accumulated, and 4) my identity as a father.

  1. I fear nothing. To the point of stupidity. I’ve always been the first to confront the bully, test thin ice, begin a relationship with a girl I met a moment ago, wander into the darker part of Mexican mountains, and relocate with no certain agenda. Perhaps this acceptance of risk persists, in part, due to the many times I began with nothing in way of means or method, and found contentment in no time at all. One day I may lose at this game of risk. John Denver did as his ultra-light crashed into the sea. But I strangely picture a grin on John’s face as he understood it was the end. Maybe not. Alright, I’ll concede that this contribution to my grinning at death can rightfully be called stupidity.
  2. Perhaps my notion of success is far too modest. Perhaps I’m an under-achiever. It is difficult to tell since, during the past few years, I’ve traversed a number of social terrains full of over-achievers. Most definitions of success I’ve encountered are offered by persons who never seem to truly reach the contentment they insist is at the end of their particular rainbow. There is the rainbow of money, of sexual conquests, of prestige, but these are over-sold by their proponents, sometimes with innocence if at an early stage, and at later stages with a dogmatism that reflects regret and discontent. I’ve never really set long-term goals. I went back to university for the pure joy of it. The subsequent career options were incidental. My system of values lies far outside the bell curve in a diminutive domain of simple and more immediate experiences and pleasures. Were I to die tonight, I’d have few unchecked items on my bucket list. (Due to my taste for spontaneous risk, I’ve usually already just done the thing when it occurs to me to add it.) My lack of conventional ambition just adds to the evidence that I’m a psychological outlier. Alright, this too is probably nothing more than my skewed and deluded perception of what really matters.
  3. I posit that you’ll rarely find another who has lived in 9 states, 25+ cities, worked 45+ different jobs, and has had so many amazing friendships and romances without regrets. It is this rich and dynamic mix of memories that I, perhaps too optimistically, think will be flooding my mind as I drift off into that good night. However, there is the possibility that it is more the petty capacity of the particular mind than the number and splendor of the memories that generates this sensation of abundance. And is not this lifestyle commonly disparaged as an aimless and unwholesome dilettantism? I’ll also grant you this one.
  4. Finally, let me make a final attempt to ennoble my grinning at death. I’ve got kids. This is often said in the same tone as one might say “I’ve got herpes.” However, for me, this fact is what makes my own death more than alright. I have proliferated. I have propagated. And these 3 accomplishments are all now at points of knowledge and wisdom well beyond where I had been at their age. Well, perhaps accomplishments is a bit too boastful. I had only been acting out the passions and instincts of youth when I found myself a fortunate father. How incredible that those past beastly urges have produced the magnificent warmth of paternal pride that gives me no pause to pass on. So I must confess it may be nothing more than a consequence of instinct that makes me now grin at the mention of death.

Well, to conclude an essay that has not gone very well, it seems I grin at death because I’m a stupid and delusional beastly dilettante. Don’t write that on my tombstone.



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