In the darkness of our little bedroom a few nights ago, Ian had one of his hands wrapped cozily around his pillow, and the other around my waist. He was close to falling asleep, but I was still awake, my mind flooded with philosophical nighttime ponderings as I gazed at the popcorn ceiling. My eyes eventually drifted from the ceiling to his pillow-obscured face, and my voice punctuated the silence of our bedroom as I asked him a most inappropriate bedtime question:
“How often do you think about death? Like, about you or your loved ones dying?”
“I dunno. Not much.”
“Why, Annie? How often do you think about it?”
“All the time...”
It’s true. I feel like Father Time is always looking over my shoulder. But before you check my body for pagan symbols and ship me off to live with the Addams Family, I should clarify that that I don’t think about death in a scary way. I’m not walking around in constant fear that I’ll be hit by a bus or bitten by a poisonous spider. Nor am I emotionally depressed at the ever-presence of suffering and death in life, a la Emily Dickinson.
On the contrary, I’d characterize my “thinking about death” as “ruminations on mortality,” and I believe that my daily ruminations are a good thing for my life. A really good thing. Father Time may be standing right behind me, but I welcome his presence.
The first time I remember thinking acutely about death/mortality/life was on a cold street corner in London when I was studying abroad in early 2006. It was winter, it was raining, and I was miserable as I waited for my big red bus to come pick me up to take me to Ealing Broadway station. The winter rain pricked my hands and feet, and the wind blew against my face, stinging my cheeks red and challenging my little H&M umbrella. I wiggled my toes around in my soaked shoes and swung my shoulders from side-to-side to stay warm. I wiped my runny nose and cursed the germy buses for giving me my second cold in two months. I looked at my watch to track the passing time, and then up at the dripping wet houses, and down at the slick stone sidewalks. And then, in the midst of my cold misery, I paused as a profound thought crossed my mind: When I’m dead, I won’t be able to feel the cold rain. Or the biting wind. Or my damp skin. Or a stuffy nose...
So as I waited for my big red bus, I took one of my hands off of my umbrella handle and jutted it out away from my body. I held my palm up to the wet sky and felt the icy rain collect on my freezing fingers, and I felt the glory of Life, of living.
Six years later, I gladly let Father Time walk beside me everyday as a reminder to bring levity to my beautiful life. As the weight of two heavy shopping bags and a purse dig into my shoulders during my mile-long return from Trader Joe’s, I refuse to focus on the discomfort of walking home; instead, I marvel at the beauty of my body’s ability to carry such a load and remind myself that One day, I will not be so strong. When the summer weather is oppressively hot and makes me sweat through my clothes, I turn my face towards the sun and tell myself that someday I won’t be around to feel its radiance. When Teddy makes me trip upon exiting the shower because he’s napping on the bathmat, I give him an extra hug once I dry off because I know that all too soon, he won’t be here to follow me around. And every time I hear my mom or dad’s voice on the other end of the call, I say a little prayer of thanks, because one day they won’t be there to pick up the phone.
After I surprised Ian by responding that I think about death “all the time,” he asked me why I think about it so much.
“It helps you appreciate the present,” I said, “Because one day one of us will be lying in this bed alone.”
His opened his eyes and sat up. “Annie, no!” Ian didn’t want to think about that eventuality, but he managed to lighten the conversation with some self-deprecating humor, “Well, it’ll probably be you.”
He squeezed my hand, lied down, and we fell asleep together. We held each other a little closer that night, and maybe Father Time smiled in contentment as he saw us over my shoulder.