“If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it.”
— Michel De Montaigne
Remembering that I will die — does death scare me or motivate me? Neither, I am afraid, in any overwhelming way. Perhaps Montaigne’s message has reached me. I suppose it motivates me to live well; after all, would I be concerned about the quality of my life if I wasn’t aware I could die? But I certainly don’t obsess over it in any gothic way. Death will come. Living is now. I don’t want to bother my head about it.
What motivates me more, relative to death, is living deliberately and honestly; to not just accept the passive reality of my choices, but also embrace them as the path I took to arrive in this moment. After too many years of bad choices, of hard choices, of sacrificing, I feel I have arrived in this moment as a whole person, aware, with mind intact, with body worn down some but resilient and ready to be healed — one day, one walk, one swim, one bike ride, one push up at a time. Life, finally, is very simple.
So, am I afraid of death? Not really, though I don’t want to die. Not wanting to die, I won’t take the risks of foolish youths. If the Grim Reaper, himself, walked out of the corn field along the dead-end road that follows the ridge, past the neighbor’s solar panel and up the steps to the porch with the two Adirondack chairs made of real wood (not the suburban fakes sold at Home Depot) … if this were to happen, I would sneak out the side door and run from his cold embrace on the trails that weave through the black walnut trees in back. A good game of hide and seek, the kid in me rejoicing.
Like Frost stopping by woods on a snowy evening, there are miles to go, and along those miles fascinating things to learn, ideas to write, foods to taste, stories to tell, love to be made. Living to be done. So, given all that, I would say that death motivates me. Not like a specter with one hand on the banister of the porch about to knock, but somewhere along Route 131 or maybe County Highway T — a long way for him to walk before he arrives. I have a full day ahead of me, maybe two. It is time to listen to the horse shaking its harness bells and get on with making the most of what remains. Grim is close enough to remind me to live fully aware and deliberate, to make good choices, and to always tell those I love, “I love you.”
Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.