Early in the year, I was thinking about death. In January, the opinion piece that recommended living the year as if it were your last and the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman put mortality front and center. Sixty-nine years seemed too short a time for a life in the 21st century. Zsa-zsa Gabor, fine–she was supposedly 99; and Richard Adams (the author of Watership Down) was 96. But Prince was in his fifties, like George Michael; and Carrie Fisher was just 60. And that list leaves out a good number of the celebrities we lost in 2016, to say nothing of the friends and family members.
This morning, after seeing the news about Princess Leia, I mean, Carrie Fisher, I stayed a little longer in bed, curled up with my five-year-old daughter. My youngest, my little ‘outlier’–a surprise in my forty-second year, she brought light into my life in a time when things seemed pretty dark. (If only ‘partly cloudy‘ were the worst of it…) If I only live to 60, I thought, she’ll be 18 when I die. If I only make it to 53, though–George Michael’s age–she will be 11. Just 11. It seems so unfair. And unthinkable. But it happens: a friend, a fellow mum from the schoolyard, died this March. She was in her early fifties; her youngest child just 10 years old.
In January, living as though you were in your final year seemed like a kind of New Year’s resolution, to pay attention and remain mindful of your mortality. Because people can and do live longer now, because we (in the US and the UK and the rest of the developed world) are so good at preventing childhood diseases and curing those that used to take young lives, it seems reasonable to expect that we’ll make it to our nineties, anyway. So living in awareness of our mortality takes concentration, focus. Or it did. Before 2016.
Nothing is guaranteed. After a year in which the Cubs won the world series, Leicester won the Premier League, Donald Trump was elected president, and Britain voted to leave the EU; after the deaths of so many people we considered too young to die, we ought to expect the unexpected, the unthinkable.
Something tells me that living 2017 in the persistent awareness of the shadow of death will be more difficult not to do.