Stop the world, I (don’t) want to get off

“People live in cities because they fear death,” she said.

“What about people who live in the country?” I asked.

“Same reason.”  She smiled.  I waited for her to explain.  “Understand,” she said, “that there are two polar opposite ways of not letting the inevitability of your death interfere with the full living of your life.  The first way is to ignore death completely, pretend it doesn’t exist, or at least that it’s never going to happen to you.  Distract yourself.  Immerse your consciousness so completely in the incessant whir of living that you don’t have time to contemplate its end.  These are the city dwellers.  Stick them in the country for too long and they start thinking too much, and they panic.”

She paused.  I didn’t argue with her, at least not yet.

“The country folk,” she continued, “follow the second way.  Instead of ignoring death, you keep it on your shoulder like a little friend (fiend?), as Castaneda advised.  You continually remind yourself that you are going to die, that this is all going to end, and this reminder encourages you to live every moment to its fullest.  These people need some space and quiet to keep their thoughts of death alive.  Put them in a city, and there’s too much going on, too many external stimuli.  They get overwhelmed.  Death falls off their shoulder, and now they worry about where he’s gone, when and where he’s going to pop up.  They freeze.”

She stopped and sipped her bourbon.  Like most of her theories, this one was far from complete, but she knew that and proposed it anyway, which is what I loved about her.  (I also loved that she drank bourbon.)  Besides, what theory of human experience could ever hope to be complete?

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