As I age I have become quite afraid of flying. It isn’t a fear of death, which has become less and less terrifying as a concept as I grow up, but rather a fear of what I might do as the plane was crashing.
Would I be the one shoving children out of my way on the way to an exit?
Would I slow everyone down in an emergency because I can’t imagine leaving my purse behind?
Would I pray?
I wonder about these things from time to time – who am I and what would a crisis reveal about me. I’m exceptionally lucky in that I have never had to face a true crisis or a true emergency. As I said, it’s not death I fear (after death you’re dead, after all, and no longer worried about much of anything) it’s the process of dying.
My husband and I have been updating our will in the last couple weeks. With the death of my husband’s brother, whom we had designated as guardian for the girls, we needed to revise and come up with a new plan. In the process, the attorney drafting the new will reminded us that we need to be clear with each other about our extended care directives. I struggle to know how I want to end my life. It’s always seemed so far away and I want to continue to believe that it will be – but after the death of my brother-in-law last year and the death of the father of one of my daughter’s friends, I know that it may not be as far as I would hope.
Hence my fear on planes.
The thought of death is deeply uncomfortable for us as humans. We don’t want to think about it, we want to deny its existence and not look too closely at it. It’s almost as if we feel thinking about it is willing it into existence. That said, it is the knowledge of death’s inevitability that allows us to value our lives properly. It is only with limits that our lives can have meaning – in my opinion. It is only by knowing that at any moment we could not be that we are able fully to be – thanks Shakespeare. The question becomes, then, what do we want to be, what do we want to do, what is important to us at any moment?
I know that this can’t be the focus of our lives – that we could die at any moment. But I think it is important to contemplate our purpose and values from time to time. What is the legacy we want to leave in the world and what are our goals that we’re moving towards at any given moment.
I think being mindful of what is important to us helps to motivate and to create meaning in our daily lives. The sense of tenuousness and fragility adds worth and makes priceless those things that we would take for granted. It brings clarity, I think.