Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

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I Want to Die

9/13/2013 12:06:00 PM

Tags: death and mortality, meaning of life, Kansas, Bryan Welch

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 BiodiversityScience Magazine Issue # 269, Pages 347–350 (1995)
[v] Rabbi Ken Spiro. “End of Days.” Retrieved September 13, 2013. 

Photo by Bryan Welch

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.

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11/11/2013 7:15:00 PM
I don't want to die, I just don't want to live any longer. I don't want to kill myself, I just don't want to wake up any longer. But I keep waking up, so I have no other choice...

Bryan Welch
10/29/2013 1:41:34 PM
Amen, Vern, and thanks for the kind words and good suggestions, Epouna.

10/1/2013 8:14:31 PM
acording to the bible kjv ashes to ashes dust to dust we all were raised from the soil we live on as a man's day is numbered it is easy to live and die God bless us all that praise him

Epouna Berkana
9/30/2013 12:06:57 PM
Very well said! Just because one looks forward to the passing of the body doesn't mean you don't enjoy physical existence in the Present moment. I very much enjoy the present moments I live through, but this body is a temporary vessel that draws a lot of resources just to remain housed and fed - something that doesn't sit well with me. I would caution, however, to want to "triumph over" the ego. A better word might be transcend. To "triumph over" implies a battle - and to battle anything is to strengthen it. The ego IS a pariah, but in reality it's not going anywhere anytime soon. To give the ego judge-less attention is a better way to quiet its selfish ranting. Not eliminate, just reduce its volume considerably. @myladyalexis: Life cannot exist without death. Even a vegan must cut the broccoli from its roots, pull the carrot from the ground, and slice the cucumber for the salad, thus ending their lives. Why is ending the life of an animal more horrific than harvesting the fresh produce from a garden? It's also not reasonable to assume all animal slaughter is tortuous and cruel. Halal is the very old practice of dispatching animals in a humane and respectful manner. IMO I think respect is the key in recognizing the sacrifice any living thing makes to become our meal - animal or vegetable. In my own household I tell my kids that even if they're becoming full toward the end of the meal that they really need to finish any meat on their plates, as I point out that the cow/pig/chicken has sacrificed its life for us. Thanks, Bryan, for your insightful writing!

Bryan Welch
9/29/2013 7:17:06 AM
Jack, JACKM, it particularly bothers me that my body might be embalmed, making my body into pollution. Thanks for your note.

9/17/2013 11:12:17 PM
I'm with you, Bryan, though I suspect that precisely when I want to die will remain a moving target. When I was 16, I thought that 40 would be a good number, and yet here I am at 65, and paying more attention to my diet and exercise than I ever have. But my living will is pretty generous and when life sustaining measures are no longer appropriate I want organ harvesters standing by. At my age, this may be purely symbolic, as most of my organs are well past their sell-by date, but burn units can always us skin (it's not permanent, but it's better than bandages while good skin is growing back) and I seem to be covered with it. Our culture disposes of our bodies like garbage--either it gets incinerated, or it goes in a landfill, and urns and headstones don't change that basic truth. I'm a conservationist and I recycle what I can, and I'll be dipped if I'm going to give my body less respect than I'd give an empty pop bottle.

Bryan Welch
9/17/2013 4:39:00 PM
Thanks, Scott. My own perspective on raising and killing my own food: My natural pastures provide homes to thousands of species of living things. The plowed fields next door are virtually devoid of all life - except the plants raised there for human consumption. Every living thing exists at the expense of some other living thing, and we all depend on their sacrifice for our existence. I can't see anything immoral in that sacrifice, except of course if we exempt ourselves from the cycle. I raise and slaughter my animals in as humane a way as I can conceive. Someday I hope my body will be consumed by others. And the sadness I feel when I kill animals I've nurtured throughout their lives is a natural, poignant sadness I believe every person should feel as they contemplate the web of life.

9/17/2013 4:22:51 PM
It's somewhat reassuring to find that at least one individual has come to such a conclusion. As much of the population is no longer just surviving, but thriving, our numbers continue to grow exponentially with few hindrances. In the long term, it's ironically crucial to our own survival that our turnover rate increase. There's a reason for this grand cycle and I think there needs to be a balance between human well-being and the well-being of our ecosystem (which as I understand, many cultures consider the two to be one in the same). myladyalexis, while I do align my ideals to yours, I'd really hope to find someone with your awareness and compassion to be a bit more...compassionate. Our society forces us to make some wacky decisions to make our living. I sit at a computer all day; others raise and harvest meat. I'm not going to justify either and I can't say one is less wacky than the other; but I can say for damned sure that both are pretty wacked. So perhaps, alexis, we can all start a conversation instead of a flame war as Bryan seems to be no less rational than you or I. Thanks for your thoughts in this article, Bryan. It should at least get us all thinking a bit.
9/16/2013 10:42:42 PM
You haven't convinced me to want to die yet. And for the love of me I will never understand how any human being could just casually cut the throat of a baby lamb or wrench it so cruelly from it's mother without any compassion whatsoever. Humanity is heartless and for my part of living off the land does not include taking lives from the defenseless / voiceless who I'm sure also have a desire to LIVE LIFE!!!

Bryan Welch
9/15/2013 7:21:39 AM
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