My area of interest and the subject I incorporate into all of my classes is mortality studies; it’s an interdisciplinary examination of death and dying. Throughout my years of study in this concentration, the most profound lesson I’ve learned is the vital importance of relationships and life experiences; these, if unfulfilled, are the two primary regrets Hospice nurses claim they hear from their dying patients: “I wish I spent more time with friends and family, creating relationships and acquiring more life experiences.”

One may think to study mortality is morbid, unhealthy, disturbing, or perhaps repugnant, but it’s thoroughly life-affirming. Reflecting on death forces one to live not only more deeply, but with more passion, authenticity, and immediacy. Life becomes an emergency when one becomes acutely aware that life is in fact finite.

For me, life must be one of adventure, a series of adventures–as one ends another begins. With the conclusion of an adventure, we are forced to go back to our automatic routine lives. Time passes, and the telomeres rooted on our chromosomes continue to wither away, and we grow old.

A somewhat troubling but crucial practice is to meditate on our future deathbed scene, to contemplate what we might think about as life begins to fade. You won’t think about all the hollow material possessions you’ve gained and lost throughout life, all the time wasted laboring to impress everyone but yourself, all the wealth you’ve saved and lost, all the times you’ve realized crises were merely trivialities, all the hours spent working, running on that corporate hamster wheel, trying to get ahead in a spiritless rat race of robots.

You’ll think about all your adventures. You’ll remember your adventures and the friends with whom you shared them. And you’ll remember all of your subsequent adventures. And eventually, sadly, you’ll take your last breath, having exhausted your mortal coil, having overdosed on life experiences.

The German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche developed an idea he called Eternal Return. It’s a thought experiment that hammers the notion of living passionately. Nietzsche instructs us to imagine that as we’re dying, a demon appears at our deathbed and proclaims that we are condemned to relive our lives over and over and over again in exactly in the same manner we’ve previously lived it–repeating all the slings and arrows, all the miseries and misfortunes, and all the glories and adventures.

Nietzsche forces us to ask ourselves, “how would I respond to this demon?” Would I rage against the dying of the light, kicking and screaming, thinking of reliving all the hours spent watching television, marinating on the sofa, and working at a job that neither offers meaning to my life nor fulfills my personal desires? Would I be terrified of reliving all the life I’ve wasted continually? Or would I respond with a Dionysian fervor, “relive my life in the same way over and over again? Yes! Again and again, it is!”

We must have so many adventures that when it’s time to lie on our deathbeds and Nietzsche’s demon appears to declare that we’re doomed to relive our lives over and over again for eternity, we can respond with sincerity and confidence, “Doomed? I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

One of Charles Dickens’ colorful characters said, “we’re all fellow passengers to the grave.” Let us all have adventures together before we reach our final destination.

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