A crowd gathered in Woollam House last Saturday morning for cake, coffee and a conversation about death. Faces that masked quarter-life, midlife and end-of-life crises filled the room. Jacki Mann, RN, a hospice nurse and facilitator of Gambier’s first Death Cafe, asked everyone to introduce themselves and give the reason they came.
“Elizabeth,” I said, “sophomore — because I’m young, I think I am invincible, which might be a problem.”
I expected the Death Cafe to change my perspective on death, or at least my perspective on living with the knowledge that I will one day die. Everyone should take advantage of the monthly Death Cafe because it has the ability to alter our outlook in a way that is unpredictable.
The two people who introduced themselves after I did — one double, the other triple my age — said they were also dealing with the same invincibility complex.
Part of me dreams that when I am pushing 70, I will feel as invincible as I do now. We were there trying to correct this mindset through discussion.
We were prompted with quotes like “Without death, there is no life,” and questions like “Which is worse: dying without saying goodbye or dying a long, painful death?” After everyone contemplated their ideal funeral arrangements out loud, they claimed, either genuinely or falsely, to have accepted the idea of their own deaths. It was then that I decided living with some underlying sense of invincibility is not as damaging as it initially sounds.
The idea that people should live like they are dying is popular at events like the Death Cafe. It’s because living for tomorrow is just a watered-down version of living your entire life in preparation for an afterlife. Neither tomorrow nor an afterlife are guaranteed. To most people, college feels like the four-year purgatory in which you must decide how you want to spend the rest of your life. The most popular conclusion I hear my classmates come to is that they want to be successful. Usually, success means financial stability and a foothold in the upper-middle class. People will settle for majors that guarantee them livable paychecks because livable paychecks make people think they are happy.
People do not choose, in any given moment, to do what actually makes them happy. Living like you are invincible is like living like you are dying, except you are not dying. You are of sound mind and body, and you are proud. It is living, not in the delusion that we will go on forever, but without fear of death, with total acceptance that we will make mistakes and feel pain.
I have previously associated being young with always dreaming of the future and being old with always wanting to relive the past. It was eye-opening to hear the experiences of people who have lived much longer than I have, who have lost more loved ones than I have and who still express how glad they are every day when they wake up. Eye-opening partially because I take for granted how lucky I am to be able to hear my alarm go off every morning, but also because I saw how familiar they are with pain and loss, and how they still look forward instead of back. We become liberated to move forward always, shielded by a lack of cowardice. Everyone should attend at least one Death Cafe because accepting the inevitable end of our lives allows us the freedom to live without fear of it.
Elizabeth Iduma ’20 is a film major from Silver Spring, Md. You can contact her at email@example.com.