Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I want to die.
I am not miserable. I’m not even slightly depressed. I’m in no hurry, particularly, but I want to die. I want to die because I believe it is the superior alternative, in every way, to wanting NOT to die.
One of my goals is to make you want to die, too.
The sort of death I want will not be a defeat. I will not “succumb.” I will not “surrender.” I will die heroically, so that others may live. My individual light will fade. Millions of other lights will be ignited from the ember.
That’s the way life has always worked.
My death will be heroic, but not unique.
I’m looking forward to it - the end of my physical life. That’s the finest thing about wanting to die. Imagine all the times, over the course of a day, a year or a decade, we are possessed by the fear of death. Consider how much of a life is spent preoccupied by pointless anxiety about death. What a waste.
In contrast, every day of my life since I decided I wanted to die has been relatively free of the fear of death. Of course I flinch when I’m cut off in traffic. I still watch my moles and freckles for signs of melanoma. I’m still scared of heights. But my new commitment to my own mortality has lifted my spirits immeasurably. I used to accept death’s inevitability. Now I celebrate its promise.
Mortality has gotten a bad rap. We have focused on its negative aspect. Yes, Mortality implies the end of our individual lives. But it also connotes our perpetual lives as a physical part of something much greater — the entirety of creation. Mortality is life’s central miracle. Energy begets life; life concludes in death; death begets life; and so on.
I’m a farmer. I’m in the Mortality business. Each year I foster and nurture dozens of lambs and calves. Then I preside over their deaths and distribute their meat to my family, friends and customers. My lambs are raised on grass. My grandsons are raised on lamb. Other lives — and deaths - provide the basis for our lives.
In this respect, Mortality is a simple fact, supported by science: The physical evidence of the unity of all energy and all life is abundantly obvious.
After I decided that death might be a personal choice, I was struck by the heroic potential in making mortality a conscious decision. As we are increasingly able to lengthen our lives and perpetuate our health, the notion of death is transformed. Death is our ultimate opportunity to consciously give back. It’s our most profound responsibility. If we do it mindfully, it’s our crowning achievement.
As we saturate our habitat, death’s utility becomes obvious.
If we cure cancer, we’ll need to build the equivalent of another New York City metropolitan area next year, in addition to our present expansion rate, in order to accommodate the 8 million people who aren’t killed by the disease.[i][ii] If a miracle drug suddenly lengthened overall human life expectancy by 10 years, the rate of human population expansion would accelerate by 150,000 people per day — 54 million a year – necessitating the construction of about seven additional New York Cities every year.[iii]
As I see human expansion destroy 140,000 unique biological species every year,[iv] as I watch natural habitats paved over for parking lots and devoured by slums — in effect, as I watch the impact of thriving human life on the health of the global habitat — I grow more and more acutely conscious of the importance of human death. Human mortality is critical to the health of our planet and future generations of human beings.
Death, our age-old enemy, has switched sides. Now death is our ally.
Muslims, Christians and and Jews all believe in a Garden of Eden. In our creation myth, we were expelled from that perfect garden when we developed our unique human self-consciousness. Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and it gave them egos. That was the end of paradise.
Ancient scriptures suggest that we will return to the garden.[v] I love that vision. Of course, it depends on two important achievements: First, we must preserve a beautiful, abundant natural habitat – our garden, as it were. And second, we must triumph over the human ego, which got us thrown out of paradise to begin with and has typically tried to perpetuate itself at all cost.
Our growing potential for extremely long lives – or even something like immortality – creates a parallel potential for an even greater achievement. If we acknowledge that the conservation of the essential miracle of life depends on our mortality, then we illuminate an opportunity: We may voluntarily embrace mortality. We may, finally, triumph over the human ego. And that may be the greatest challenge, and the greatest achievement, in the history of humankind.
[i] World Health Organization. Media Centre.
[ii] New York City Department of City Planning. Current Population Estimates. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
[iii] United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
[iv] S.L. Pimm, G.J. Russell, J.L. Gittleman and T.M. Brooks, The Future of Biodiversity, Science Magazine Issue # 269, Pages 347–350 (1995)
[v] Rabbi Ken Spiro. “End of Days.” Retrieved September 13, 2013.
Photo by Bryan Welch