How to Stop Fearing Your Own Mortality in Five Easy Steps

How to Stop Fearing Your Own Mortality in Five Easy Steps


Mortality and Immortality William Harnett1. Accept that there is no God. One of the most basic arguments used to justify, if not the truthfulness of, then at least the practical utility of, the existence of a higher power is that it gives us something to look forward to after death. Now I’ve never been one for rote practicality, as evidenced by the sheer number of rubber flip flops that are littering my closet floor and how long my “check engine” light has been on. But even if I were, it would still make absolutely no sense to unilaterally subscribe to Pascal’s Wager. Because it isn’t actually as simple as being presented with two opposing points (either God exists or he doesn’t), and the benefits of believing the former greatly outweighing the latter. Pascal’s notion that we’d best believe in God just in case, because blissful eternal life, as infinitesimal a possibility as it is, is still the basket into which you’d want to put your eggs, still leaves for the astronomically gaping logical hole that is posed by the question: which God? Any one of us who adheres to belief in even the most rudimentary of higher powers isn’t actually just wagering the two possible outcomes of eternal life, we’re also putting all our proverbial chips on one color of one number of a roulette wheel with thousands and thousands of possible outcomes.

Which of these scenarios sounds less frightening: 1) God exists, and he may be your God, and he may reward you with an ass-clinchingly bitchin’ eternity in paradise. Or he may not, because he’s capricious and, by all philosophical and theological accounts, virtually unknowable. OR or he may be some other dude’s God, that dude over there, in that other country, so you were screwed from the get-go. 2) None of that is the case, and when you die the lights go out. Night night. Look, I’m not saying it’s pleasant, but it is the only option that doesn’t have the possibility of damnable hellfire at the end of it. Plus, like, you wouldn’t even believe the kind of hedonistic depraved shit we atheists get ourselves into, what with no moral consequences or anything. I’m talking high level drug-fueled-orgy-and-Pizza-Rolls-type of stuff. And that’s just a typical Tuesday.

2. Accept the unpredictability of death. Final Destination only got one thing right: you should always, without question, blindly trust anything Devon Sawa tells you. Always. Aside from that, the idea that we are somehow tethered to our deaths at our moment of birth and fated to shuffle off this mortal coil in some way that gives ex post facto meaning to our lives is just silly. It’s kinda comforting, sure, but moreso silly. You may die at a ripe old age of heart failure because that’s what’s hardwired into your genetics. Or, you might step outside your office building and a pane of glass that fell out of a window will land on you and slice you most of the way in half. One is perhaps a noble death, in that it doesn’t rattle our sensibilities too much, the other is so outstandingly egregious and horrifying that it makes us instantly question whether any predictable pattern exists in the universe at all. And one is just as possible as the other. The trick here will be to learn how to allow such a fact to free you from the stresses of not knowing how you’ll ultimately kick it, rather than be so terrified you can’t even bring yourself to get out of bed in the morning. Which honestly, think about it, you may as well do. Your bed frame could give out and a spring could snap and come torpedoing through your mattress and stab you right in the spinal column. So get up and enjoy your day!

3. Accept your insignificance. I’ve never been able to explain insignificance quite as well as Douglas Adams. So here you go:

It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

That the universe won’t bat an eye when you, or I, or your fat orange cat, or your mom, or your entire apartment building, or the population of the western hemisphere, or the inhabitants of planet earth and all its orbiting man-made satellites will very soon no longer exist shouldn’t come as a surprise; for all it cares, we never existed to begin with. Nor shouldn’t it make you feel hopeless or depressed: you’re as un-special as the next guy. So let’s all just hold hands and sing Beatles songs and try to make this as good a planet as possible for as many people as we can until the sun explodes, yeah? OK deal.

4. Accept that it’s perfectly normal to fear your own mortality. There’s a latent guilt that often accompanies our fear of death. As though this most human of instincts somehow makes us weak, or prisoner to some base intuition. But the sneaky truth of it is, we don’t just fear death on our own behalf, we fear it on behalf of those we leave behind. It isn’t, therefore, a selfish desire to cling to the earth for longer than our allotted time (although that’s certainly part of it), but a very un-selfish concern for the people into whose lives we are irrevocably woven. We fear letting people down, we fear leaving them alone, we fear making our family and children and fat orange cats fend for themselves. It’s what makes us human, and it is a very realistic and disconcerting byproduct of death. That is, until everybody we ever knew also dies, half a universal millisecond after us, and the slate’s wiped clean. So think big picture, guys! The cosmos don’t care about you a whole hell of a lot more than anybody on earth ever did care about you!

5. If all else fails: fake it. Put on your top notch sexiest pair of sexy pants (or no pants at all, if’n that’s you at your sexiest) and strut around the house singing along to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” (I call this “JGL-ing” and I actually do it pretty often when I’m feeling less than stellar). Do this for about thirty minutes, and then try to tell me you’re afraid of anything at all. Death included.

Katie Sisneros is absolutely terrified of dying.


Image: Mortality and Immortality, William Michael Harnett, 1876.