I am outside, wandering Richmond, British Columbia. The ocean stands before me, a shimmering field of blue that rolls in the howling wind. I am calm. I want to hold on to this moment because it is beautiful. But this is impossible. Time stands still for no one. As I’ve gotten older, time billows by more quickly than ever. Days, weeks, months, and years pass like sped-up movies. The more I try to hold on, the less I have a grasp on it. It all is so ephemeral. And we are the most ephemeral, passing on this earth just this once for just a sliver of time before it is gone.
I am now 41, fully in middle age. My parents are in their 70s and 80s. My aunt and uncle passed away at the end of 2020. 500,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Death no longer rests in the background but has become a companion of my everyday existence. I am getting older and certain truths, which I have always known, are now impossible to hide from anymore. I know my parents do not have that much time left on this earth. I know everyone I care about will die. I know my own time is limited too.
Sometimes the dread gets the better of me. Sometimes I feel so sad that I want to lay in bed and cry. Sometimes I hear the cries of my patients, and I feel I have nothing to give. Sometimes I want to fall asleep into a haze of alcohol and not remember my mortality. Sometimes I get so anxious about lost time that I put endless pressure on myself to get things done. If I am just productive enough, then the fear won’t get me. If I am just productive enough, I will be whole. But the fear always comes back. It has nowhere else to go. So I keep moving forward. And I keep showing up to my work every day.
Getting older is strange and terrifying. It means to face loss and to accept that I do not have control, that control is an illusion. Most of us run away from these truths. They are too heavy to bear. We rather push them away from consciousness, repress our deepest fears because we don’t have a choice. We must repress because to live with the terror of existence means to be constantly faced with impermanence, it means to be constantly faced with one’s fragility. Can there be any sanity in facing the world in this way?
I don’t know. But I don’t see any other way. I am having trouble repressing these days. I want to face myself and my existence honestly. I want to find courage in the face of loss and death. I want to be present. I want to look at the rolling hills and listen to the wind screams hitting my face and feel alive because it will all be over soon enough.
To live this way means to feel vulnerable all the time. I certainly still have defenses. I am mostly unaware of how they are working. But to face death and growing old means to face move beyond my defenses and stare at the black void. It means to be alone in the end. It means to feel sad even during the happiest moments. It is the life that has been chosen for me. It is the only way I know how to go forward.