Facing my mortality

It’s a fact that I’m going to die someday. No one can deny that we are born, we live, and then we die – that’s how time works for us. This shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.

For years I was envious of those who truly, deeply believed in some kind of spiritual afterlife. I could never bring myself over to the side of faith; it just didn’t seem logical to me, and those who promoted the concept in my younger years never seemed the better for their connection with spirituality. Eventually, I came to terms with most of my feelings around the issue except for one; the fact that someday, be it sooner or later, I would die.

Light through the trees
There is a light... and it's the sun

It wasn’t the dying that I was uncomfortable with. It was, rather, the same thing that makes me never want to sleep at night – I hate the idea that by sleeping I am somehow missing out on something vitally important or mind-blowingly exciting. I’ve stayed up all night many times in my life. I’ve even had a six-month period in my early twenties when I refused to sleep more than four hours a night. I usually didn’t miss anything, but sometimes fantastic things happened in those dark hours when the rest of the city was sleeping. On the occasions when great things did happen, it only cemented the feelings I had that when I slept I was missing out. On top of that, all of my best creative work happens after eleven p.m.

Death is the great period of missing out on things

Death is like sleep, only permanent, and there are no dreams. Now that I have a daughter, the feeling that I could die and miss out on everything – in her future and our future as a family – is stronger than it has ever been. Mortality becomes a bigger deal when you’re a mom, I think. You want nothing more than to see your child grow, learn, and experience the world. You want to be there to help when you’re needed and to take care of them until they can take care of themselves. The very concept that you could die tomorrow and not be there for them, not see them grow up, is sometimes a devastating one. It can make you more cautious than you were perhaps before you had children. I know it has for me, and for some other parents I’ve talked to about it.

So, like sleep, I didn’t want to die because I don’t want to miss out on anything. For nearly the past three years this has been a weight on my mind – not constant, but a thought that returns unbidden at random times. It’s unsettling, and frustrating, and sometimes makes my heart skip a beat in irrational fear.

I had to come to terms with my mortality

So how can a woman who doesn’t believe in the afterlife come to terms with the fact that her worst fear is missing out on something because she’s dead? Unexpectedly for me, it was through a television show.

A few months ago Adam (the astronomy geek of the family) and I started watching Professor Brian Cox‘s BBC astronomy series Wonders of the Solar System, followed by Wonders of the Universe. It was the first episode of Universe, Destiny, that blindsided me (with Science!) and helped me accept that I will die… and that it’s okay.

Destiny is about time. Brian Cox explains time and entropy in a way that is attainable – a way that I can understand it, even though I’m no scientist, and physics concepts often go way over my head. Watching this show was the first time I actually understood what entropy means – not well enough to explain it to anyone, but well enough that a light switched on in my brain and I finally got it. But that isn’t what helped me accept my mortality.

By the end of the show, Brian has brought you on a journey of time and the universe through his own eyes – and he has no problem expressing his childlike wonder at it all in an infectious way. When he dropped the bomb on us, the viewers, that time is marching forward inexorably, and that it it will end – the entire universe, and everything within it, will cease to exist – it was like I had been hit by lightning. The knowledge that someday, far beyond my own existence and beyond a time I can even imagine, the world, the stars, the galaxies, the universe, and time itself will no longer exist, suddenly became the most important piece of knowledge I had ever understood.

I sat in stunned silence after the show had ended, contemplating just what that meant.

I can’t miss out on something that doesn’t exist

When I die, I won’t exist anymore. But someday neither will anything else. Although I can understand why that might terrify some people, I’ve discovered that it’s the most comforting thought I have ever experienced.

A perfect May Day

We woke up this morning to sunshine in the form of a 2 year old demanding that we “get up, it’s morning, wake up now please, it’s time to wake up!” We rolled out of bed and stumbled to the living room, being pulled the whole way by a very awake little girl who wanted to watch videos, please. She had, after all, slept in till 7:45, so why were we being so lethargic?

Videos were watched as we, the so-called adults in the house, tried to clear our heads and figure out what to do with a sunny Sunday morning. We scrapped our original plan to catch a ferry to the Sunshine Coast and check out the MuddBunnies racing at the Sunshine Coaster DH, opting instead to either visit the petting zoo / farm on the north shore or take a bike ride with the girl and her chariot.

When faced with the options of checking out animals at the farm or going bike riding the forest, Lyra responded with an adamant and forceful cry of “Go for a bike ride!” so our plans were set. First order of business, however, was naptime. For everyone. For two hours. Lyra napped in her room, Adam napped on one half of the L-shaped couch, I napped on the other half of said couch, and Sera the cat napped on my head.

With that out of the way, the whole family (minus Sera) piled into the car with our bikes and trailer to head to the Lower Seymour Conservation Forest, with a short coffee stop along the way. The winding forest trails in the LSCR are perfect for a couple of mountain bikes towing a double trailer, and the paved road trail into the woods allows for plenty of opportunities to go very, very fast. Lyra likes to go very, very fast.

We stopped somewhere down the paved trail past Rice Lake at a deserted little picnic spot. There was sunlight shining down through the break in the trees above us and a little creek called Balloon Creek right next to it. It was, in a word, idyllic.

We ran in circles and played chase with Lyra; we climbed down to the creek and threw leaves into it to see how far they could flow with the water; we swatted at mosquitoes too young to know how to bite us. The air was clean and the sun warm on our faces.

The three of us – Father, Mother, Daughter – lay down together laughing in the grass and looked up at the beautiful blue sky. As we watched, a bald eagle glided above us, and we agreed – at least Adam and I did – that we couldn’t imagine being, or living, anywhere else right now. We just assumed the same of Lyra, since she’s only two and has never lived anywhere else. We were together, surrounded by forest and mountains, with eagles looking down on us, and nothing could be more perfect.

Lyra seemed to agree, since the idea of getting back into the trailer and heading back to the car was one she was violently opposed to. When we told her that we’d get sushi with Uncle Jordy, she was more willing to leave. There’s nothing like bribing a toddler with the promise of her favourite uncle as motivation to move.

Fortunately for all of us, it was a promise we were able to keep. We turned our bikes around and raced at top speed back to the car. I may have mentioned before that Lyra likes going very, very fast, but to be fair, she comes by it naturally. We were back at the car in no time, and off to pick up her favourite uncle and get some fabulous North Vancouver sushi for dinner.

We topped off the evening with bubble tea for dessert, and called it a day – a perfect day. It seems that all we need for a perfect day are the following:

  1. Sunshine
  2. Casual, agile plans
  3. Good coffee
  4. Bikes
  5. Mountains, forests, and life around us
  6. Family
  7. Sushi
  8. Bubble tea

What makes your day perfect?