The dead don’t keep track of years, anniversaries or milestones. They don’t age, they don’t count the years that they were alive, and they’re not keeping track of the time they’ve been gone.
That’s a job for the living.
Do you know what else is a job for the living? To actually live. To breathe deep, gulping breaths and to spread your arms out wide, brushing your fingertips against the side of your life. Imagine yourself as Kate Winslet, stood at the front of the Titanic, with a world of experiences in front of you.
When I was a child, I thought that everyone lived to 100 and then fell asleep. It has a really nice roundness to it, doesn’t it? I don’t know where I got this idea from. But I remember walking home from school, as we’d cut across the green, I had so many questions for my mother: how many countries are there? How many stars in the sky is there? Do we all live to 100? I’ve always been curious.
The knowledge that we’re a little bit closer to dying every day is like a dance. It’s not as passionate as a tango, not as high energy as a jive, but it’s a dance around the truth nonetheless. We’re all dying. Is it because we’re afraid of the final curtain call? Or is the real fear that we won’t have achieved enough whilst we are here? That we have relegated all of our dreams to a ‘one day’ list.
For years, I have envisioned Death as a cloaked figure; whispering in the ears of the loved ones that I have lost, slipping his cloak around their shoulders and leading them off into the afterlife. Sometimes, I was afraid to look in the mirror in case Death was staring back at me. In case all those times that I screamed at the sky that I was too sad to be alive, came back to haunt me.
This sounds silly at best, morbid at worst. But Death seemed to follow me around. Alongside the deaths that you come to expect, elderly relatives and those that seemed really old when you were seven or eight but actually were only middle aged, are the ones that catch you off-guard. One of my close friends died when I was eighteen. He was here, and then he wasn’t. It was nothing sinister, but it was incredibly unexepected. For years, his last words to me were caught in my throat, catching every time I went to take a breath: can’t wait to see you this weekend, girl with yellow hair.
My personal (and neglected) instagram handle is still thegirlwithyellowhair because of a primary school dispute with him, I was adamant my hair was gold, he called it yellow. After he died, I tried to find some way to make sense of it. And I just, couldn’t. So I dedicated my instagram life to his memory instead.
He would’ve been 30 this summer, if the dead had birthdays.
So, what I really want to know is, are you happy? How often? Always? Most of the time? Sometimes? Never? Without turning into a multiple choice quiz, I guess what I’m asking is: are you living? Or are you just, alive?
I want to be living, I want to be head tilted back, mouth wide open with gums showing, gasping-for-breath-from-laughing-so-hard-living. I want to feel: anger, love, happiness. I want to bask in the warm blanket of contentment and the cold plunge of running into an English sea, even on the hottest summers day.
Recently, I sat down with a blank piece of paper and in the middle I wrote: if I only had five years to live, what would I give up? And on another piece I wrote: if I only had five years to live, what would I want more of? I listed everything that was draining me and everything that was keeping my soul joy absolutely full to the brim, and I worked out how I could throw the rubbish bits in the bin and hold the parts that brought me joy even closer.
This isn’t meant to be dark, sad or negative, just honest. Just human. Because that’s another wonderful thing about living right, you get to experience things. You get to read things that leave you feeling like your chest has been cracked open and like your throat is full of knives, you get to rest your head on the shoulder of a loved one, you get to feel the warmth of a day spent well in your belly.
It doesn’t mean that every minute of every day, that you have to be revelling in the glory that is life. You can be sad. You can have days where getting out of bed is a fucking accomplishment, where that’s all that anyone can ask of you and it’s totally fine. I’m not asking you not to be sad, or angry, or worried, because it’s so human to feel. Instead, I’m asking you to feel, everything. I’m just asking you, are you living, as fully as you can? As you are able?
The dead don’t have birthdays, but the living do.