The first (and only) time I was described as “pre-dead” was by comedian Jake Johannsen.
His comedy show, a couple of years ago I think in San Francisco, was hilarious. But more than anything, I was touched by how preoccupied he was with aging and with death. Johannsen was talking about how all of us sitting in the club that night are really just pre-dead people, destined to die at some point.
As someone who’s been preoccupied with my own mortality ever since I saw my first wrinkle, I could relate.
Now, realizing that we’re just pre-dead people can have devastating effects. In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Levin, watching his dying brother, suddenly realizes that “he had really forgotten and overlooked one little circumstance in life – that death would come and end everything, so it was useless to begin anything.”
Later, he adds that since death awaits us all, everything we do is insignificant, and that “one passes one’s life finding distraction in… work, merely not to think of death.”
Ultimately, Levin does find meaning to his life when he realizes that “One must live for God and not for one’s own needs.” The way I see it, Levin’s faith can be translated into anything beyond “me” and “MY needs” in order to give meaning to life. It can be as simple as parenthood – knowing your children need you gives you a strong reason to live and to live well. Love too can help give meaning, even to a tough existence. My late grandfather Ari was determined to help my frail grandmother Miep survive the holocaust. I’m certain that knowing she depended on him (she would likely have died without him) gave him the power to survive the horror.
Whether we can find meaning or not, we can use the knowledge that we’re pre-dead to become better people. If death awaits, then it truly doesn’t make sense to sweat the small stuff, to bicker and whine and be small-minded. Jealousy, racism, fear, senseless fights and arguments are really a waste of precious time. Being pre-dead can be a very good thing indeed, if instead of pushing it out of our minds, or numbing ourselves with some drug of choice (cigarettes, food, drugs, anti-depressants etc.) we choose to allow ourselves to be conscious of our eventual demise, feel the pain of this horrible fact of life, and refuse to engage in behavior or in activities that are just a horrible waste of our precious time – after all, on average, we only have about 40 years of healthy adulthood – that’s painfully short!
Believe it or not, the idea for this rather weird blog post was sparked by someone cutting in front of me this morning on the highway. I almost allowed his rudeness to ruin my mood and to affect my behavior – until I reminded myself that he, just like me, is pre-dead and so reacting to his smallness just doesn’t make sense. I can – I should – be better than that.
Being pre-dead isn’t so bad after all.