It’s become a popular saying over the years, and one backed up more with colloquial, pithy platitudes and projections than actual empirical data. Few of the most crucial existential moments in our life can be quantified; we can provide data, collected from surveys and self-reports. But I doubt in the efficacy of the experimental-method when it comes to testing human experience of mortality. That being said, isn’t it a good rule to live by; to live like every day could be your last. Although I support the idea that we shouldn’t waste our time, and we should continue to push ourselves beyond what is comfortable and normal, I don’t think there is any benefit to living like you’re dying. To be perfectly honest, I try to live my life by almost the exact opposite axiom: Live like you’re not dying, because some day you’re going to.
I am chronically ill, and because of that reality I have drawn close to me people suffering in similar ways. I have been a member of several online communities dedicated to persons suffering from any number of chronic illness. I have created lasting friendships with people who share some of my battles, and I have befriended many more who don’t. What I have noticed during my years communicating closely with people suffering from some disabling illness is the complacency and the tendency to suspend disillusion and live under the false pretense that our mortality is somehow far off – so far off, it can’ t be real.
This might seem contradictory, that I think it’s a problem people trick themselves into believing that they’re immortal. The fact is, I do think it’s a problem; I think it’s the single largest problem facing our species today. However, I don’t think the solution resides in the immortals diametric opposite: the mortal. Thinking in black and white terms presupposes that the two poles are themselves correct, and the only options available. In this particular vein of thought, there appears to be more.
I spent years worrying about everything. When my health worsened, those worries intensified, and took root in reality, rather than in fantasy. As I joined these communities, I found that many other people were doing the same thing; we all feared developing some pathology. The only difference between who we were together, and who we were before, was that these fears were justified; I could die tomorrow, I could develop a life threatening breathing disorder. Living as a young adult with a connective tissue disease, these fears aren’t completely false. We all feared developing some thing that we could have, but don’t currently have. We grieved for the life we did have, under the false notion that soon enough, our worst fears would come true. We tricked ourselves into believe if we lived as if all our fears were coming true, it wouldn’t be half as tough. We lived like we were dying, but it cost us greatly.
I have wasted a year and a half obsessing over potentially developing something that I probably will develop, and I wasted 22 years worrying about something I would never have. I lived like I was dying, and never lived as if I were living.
We’re all going to die; that’s a fact we currently cannot escape. We can dream of a world where suspended animation finally defeats human mortality, and we can cryogenically freeze ourselves and pray for a resurrection. Some can do that, but most of us just have to face the facts; Valar Morghulis. I have realized (and this is true for me, and may not be so for you) that if I cannot escape the inevitable, there’s no point forestalling our embrace. I will embrace death when I must, and I will fight and flee until I know that moment is finally upon me. I refuse to live like I’m dying, until I’m actually dying; and even then, I’m going to keep on living until I draw my very last breath.
Philosophically we can argue the metaphysics of life and death, and how that translates to our individual sense experience. We can suppose together that at a certain point living turns into dying. We can think up many thought experiments, and I think that’s a very noble pursuit – and a path which I myself take. But we still need some pragmatic truths, especially those of us who actually have to face this stuff in the present.
Here’s what I believe: don’t live like you’re dying; leave that to Hallmark, Country music and bad Disney movies. Instead, live as life commands you, and will yourself as swiftly as you can towards actions which may change your outcome, favorably. Don’t concern yourself with what may happen, or will happen, instead meet life head on, taking up residence in the moment, rather than mortgaging the future. Living in the moment is possible to do without living like you’re dying.
There is valor to be found in life, and courage and honor in holding tightly to what remains of your time here on this Earth. Don’t fear, and most of all, learn to balance acceptance and abstention. All will be fine; everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.