Fyodor Dostoevsky was about to die. He was arrested for joining a utopian socialist group of intellectuals which resulted in him getting arrested and sent to prison. On Dec. 22, 1849, Dostoevsky was marched out to Semyonovsky Square where it was declared that he would be executed by gunfire along with fellow members of the group.
Minutes ticked by as the first group was prepared to be shot. At the last second, a messenger of the tsar declared the entire spectacle to be a mock execution. It was all an elaborate part of their punishment, and Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years of prison and then service as a soldier.
He died and came back to life in a matter of minutes.
I come from an extremely close-knit family. My youth was colored with vibrant holiday gatherings and a choir of diverse voices offering me advice as I struggled with the growing pains of youth. Even from a young age, I knew this would not last forever. Every year there was one more empty seat at the family table, but it was manageable. I had the lens of youthful immortality on, and nothing would take it away from me.
Then, death properly introduced itself.
After years of struggling with illness, my grandmother died at the end of this summer. She was surrounded by her family and we had all known it was coming. Yet, death still surprises you with its thievery, even when you can see it hovering around you. I wrote her obituary expecting it to be the first and last one I would write for a while. It was a novelty, and would stay as such.
A call notified me that my grandfather went missing. He was killed in a tragic accident which left my family broken, shattered and disoriented beyond belief. There was no preparation or time together. The mist of his life dissipated before we even had the chance to appreciate that it was there. Death had pounced upon me. Stumbling for stability, I wrote his obituary. It was no longer a novel exercise — it was instead my last conversation with him.
My great-aunt Smaragdi died exactly 30 days later. Death whispered her passing into my ear. The woman who fostered my love for philosophy and passed down Greek culture to me was gone. It was because of her that I pursued gaining Greek citizenship so that I could properly claim the title of being an Athenian. I was fortunate enough to have one last conversation with her and be in the room as she took her last breath.
I wrote her obituary and delivered her eulogy. They were both odes to the fragrance of wisdom she perfumed me with throughout my life.
What is one to do when faced with so much death? When your mortality is so violently shoved in your face?
You wear death.
I have learned that death is not an adversary to our existence. It is not the enemy to life. Rather, death is simply life’s companion. One must be haunted by the specter of death to bask the fullness of life.
Phrases like the ones above used to be meaningless platitudes. Now, I cannot help but to lend them my ear.
After his mock execution, Dostoevsky regretted how he took life for granted before being met with the prospect of death. He would believe that moment to be a rebirth for him, allowing him to live his life with renewed vigor.
Not all of us have to be mock executed. Nor do any of us need to experience tragedy to understand that life is an extremely precious gift. Simply put, it is a lesson available to everyone.
When I say that we should “wear” death I am urging us all to take a pause in the busyness and chaos of our day-to-day lives. Go for a walk and enjoy being able to sense the fresh air in your lungs. Grab lunch with a friend and treasure their smile and laughter. Study your assigned readings and rejoice that your brain can partake in that information. By keeping death in mind, we remind ourselves to take advantage of life.
Understanding the finite time we have on earth can motivate us to live more authentically to ourselves. You cannot lie in the face of death, so why should you lie in life?
I call my friends and family to simply hear their voices now. I take the bitterness of life with more sweetness than I did before. I memorize the interactions I have throughout my days. These are not based on the fear that I could die at any moment, but it is instead because I have witnessed the marriage of life and death.
Wearing death is not a morbid task. Put it on as you wake up from bed. Take it with you as you spend time with those you love. Cozy up in it as the day comes to a close. Simply put, do not ignore it.
Wear death, and life will take notice.
Noah Carandanis is the Living Editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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