Vol 23: Living, Dying, and Resurrection
In the relic light that was emitted billions of years before Earth or the sun was born, we see the same unmistakable “fingerprints” of the spectrum of hydrogen, helium, carbon, neon, and so forth, that we find on the Earth today.
In other words, the basic laws of physics haven’t changed for billions of years, and they are constant out to the outer edges of the universe.
— Michio Kaku, Physics of the Impossible
That’s pretty cool. The laws of physics haven’t changed in billions of years, and we know that.
They’ve been consistent all this time, which makes me think of what else has been true and will continue to be true long into the future.
Dealing with Death
Part of getting older is realizing that unless you’re making new friends and acquaintances continually, the circle of people you know eventually gets smaller and smaller.
There are plenty of reasons, some relationships naturally sunset, other people may move, or perhaps you build a family and your priorities shift.
But there is one inescapable reason, and it comes to dominate every single person at some point.
Whether we’re ready or not, death comes calling.
The past two years have really pronounced that, at least for me personally. I’m lucky to say that my close loved ones are still alive and well, but I know so many that aren’t as fortunate to say the same. Whether COVID, Afghanistan, or a war in Ukraine, death has resurfaced to the front of our minds, and with it a sobering sense of mortality.
It’s a grim reality, a feature of being here. And what makes it so cruel is the fact that life rarely is fair, so many people don’t get to live the lives they could have or should have. Their time gets shortened, oftentimes in ways completely outside their control.
We all have to wrangle with that individually.
Your Point in Time
If you took me back a few hundred years, this probably would’ve been the upper limit of my life expectancy. It’s a question and I frequently think about — how different my life would’ve been if I was born in some other time period.
It’s something you have absolutely no control over, and yet it dictates so much about what you experience while you’re here.
I think that’s what drives me to focus on Controlling the Controllables, making the most of the time that I’m here for, and also figuring out What I’m Actually Here For.
I’ve mentioned this before in prior Embers, but I think it bears repeating here: sometimes the best way to think about living is to tell yourself that you were born at the perfect point in the human experiment. The time when you’re able to use all your strengths to achieve greatness in whatever you do.
It’s arguably very solipsistic and probably a bit narcissistic, but it’s something that makes me feel grateful and channels my energies in a positive manner.
I know you can poke plenty of holes in this logic, or argue that the children recently born in Ukraine were absolutely born in the wrong time. I wouldn’t argue against that. That’s just one of the fallacies of trying to proclaim rules about how to live. They really only apply to you, because everyone else’s experiences are so much different and our minds aren’t wired to be able to process all the other experiences that others have.
Nonetheless, I meekly offer this as a way to potentially change how you think about things. That’s what a man did over 2,000 years ago. He offered certain truths that he lived his life by, and freely shared them with the world, opening his arms to anyone that felt compelled to join him.
He of course, is firmly ensconced in a totally different stratosphere in terms of who he was and what he was offering. But I think it’s useful to remember the similarity we all share, because the ultimate gift he gave us was the recognition that all of us have latent potential because our individual spirits are so special.
In a way, it invokes that same idea I’ve repeatedly talked about, the fact that everything around us is built by people no smarter than yourself, and once you realize that a whole new world of opportunities awaits you.
It’s an ennobling realization. And bears much responsibility, because it puts the ball in your court. It’s up to you to act upon this knowledge and to do something with it. Whatever you may choose to do is up to you.
What Remains When You Go Away
And when you eventually go away, the things you’ve done and what you’ve made will still remain. Maybe it’s a physical structure; perhaps it’s a endearing relationship full of memories.
To borrow from an ancient text, he’s not here anymore, but he is still with us.
This reminds me of a quote I love:
This is why knowledge compounds. Old stuff that was a 4/10 in value can become a 10/10, unlocked by another book in the future. — James Clear, Atomic Habits
I’ve seen this happen again and again, as I’ve embarked on my journey reading and writing. When I talk about how I sometimes stop mid exercise because something I heard or read just blew my mind — it’s ususally one of these instances: where a new situation or piece of information takes what I know and turns it into something more. It’s how you Put the Puzzle Together.
It applies to books, but it also applies to everything else — movies, lectures, songs. But most importantly it applies to people too. Things they’ve said, memories you’ve shared, activities you’ve done — they may all be in the past, but the meaning they bestow is very much in the present. And it can continue to change.
This has been one of the more important lessons I’ve learned in the past year. Life invariably brings people in and out of our lives, and that process is full of happiness, anger, sorrow, grief, confusion, excitement, and reminiscence.
Anytime you move somewhere new or leave something behind, you have to grapple with these Big Feelings. But what has helped me throughout it all is the realization that it isn’t truly over.
Death isn’t the end of a relationship. It’s just the beginning. Because if they live on inside your head, then you can keep interacting with them, in your own way. Wherever they are, they can still make you laugh, smile, and cry. They remain alive in your mind.
It’s not the same of course, nothing ever is. But it’s not nothing. It’s real, just in a different kind of way. As that James Clear quote illustrates, simple memories you shared may take on even grater significance. Perhaps rewatching a movie rekindles magic you felt. Or say some seemingly innocuous exchange now has profound wisdom. Or maybe you’re overcome with equal parts happiness and sadness as you do something that you once did with someone else.
And this doesn’t apply to just death — it could be the end of an acquaintance, the conclusion of a friendship, or the sunsetting of a relationship. In all cases, the connection may no longer be fully active, but those previous interactions can carry on in the present. That’s why it’s a gift.
The only way to process this all is to lean into these Big Feelings. Which is by no means easy. You have to reflect and deal with the fierce highs and deep lows. But while death can and is tragic, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. It’s just the start of something new, something different.
Death isn’t the end of a relationship. It’s only the new beginning.
The person I alluded to earlier is perhaps the most iconic example of this. Arguably no person has shaped the course of human history as much as he.
And unlike the others who are in contention for that title, almost all of his impact has come after he left. After his triumphant return from death.
I’m not as religious now as I used to be, and I’m not really sure if this weekend is when this event actually happened, but Easter marks the start of spring for a reason. The entire world undergoes a resurrection.
To return to that quote at the beginning of this piece, seasons — for whatever reason — have always been a part of this planet. The transition from winter to spring is an important one because it marks the start of New Beginnings.
Whatever your religious orientation is, I think this weekend — Jesus’ sacrifice — shows us how we can all defy death.
We can make the most of our time here, and do something that leaves an imprint upon the world — however big or small.
The size does not matter, what matters is the manner in which you go about your days. Because they’re finite, and that finality is perhaps the greatest gift we get, because we know we cannot afford to squander this present.
That’s what Jesus did, he fully lived every moment he was here. And that’s how he defied death.
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
— Romans 6:9
“He is not here; he has risen!” — Luke 24:6-7