I don’t want to die, but I will

The sadness I sometimes feel is just a result of this straightforward problem. I want something that I can’t have. The simplicity of this frustration is almost immature.

I’m hardly alone with this problem. The tension between what we want and what is going to happen is universal. It’s not just me. Almost all of don’t want to die, and all of us are going to (probably). There’s just an immediacy to my situation – I’m going to die sooner than most, and I don’t want to that to happen.

The wise advise against wanting something you can’t have – Buddhists, Stoics, whoever else. We must accept what is inevitable in order to live peacefully, with equanimity and calm. What good would it do, they ask, to want something impossible? What good would it do to resist change? How fruitful is it to rebel against nature?

And death, if it is anything at all, is natural. All living things die. That is about as universal a truth as you can get, without stepping into the abstract. It is a concrete reality, unfailing in its comprehensiveness.

But that death applies to all is only a statistical reality. It is a claim about how things have been thus far. There’s a tree, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, that is said to be over 5000 years old. Is it mortal? It can certainly die, from natural disaster or human ill will. But if it’s left alone, will it die at all?

Some might say that death is written in the laws of nature, but that, of course, is not literally true. The laws of nature are not written anywhere, not on any stone tablet, not in the holy books, not on the side of a mountain, not in the stars, not anywhere. And those who think they know the laws of nature are, I say, fools – fools for thinking they can rest assured in their supposed wisdom, fools for accepting ideologies as facts, fools for stifling their own curiosity with cliches. And yes, here I am, calling the Buddha a fool, Marcus Aurelius a fool, Yoda a fool, and all other holy men fools.

But I too am a fool. I want never to die; I want to live forever. This is about as foolish a wish that one could have. Nobody lives forever. Fact number one.


My illness is repetitive. Or more accurately, my treatment is repetitive. And dull. This is the part of the movie where they show the scene once, and then we watch the pages of a wall calendar flip and fly away, or watch a time-lapse segment of seasons changing, or a montage of small moments, until we come back to the same scene but with a significant and meaningful change.

But there’s none of that. Not yet at least, and I don’t know, maybe not ever. And even the change I’m supposedly hoping for (and sometimes I am hoping for)—for this illness to go from terminal to chronic—is not the kind that play well in movies. “Yay! It’s now chronic, instead of terminal”. Chronic illness is probably repetitive and dull too.

It’s not just the days that are repetitive. I often think the same things over and over again: how tired I am, how tired I am of being tired, and of course, “didn’t I think all this last week?” and “the week before that too?”

I want to acknowledge though that I am getting better. My tumours have shrunk substantially, and so I guess my illness is on its way from being terminal to being chronic. But what do we call this distance, this space, between the two?1

Maybe there is no space between these two places at all. Maybe terminal and chronic are two neighbouring countries with a only width-less border between them. (And to complete the metaphor: full recovery is across an ocean, and it’s decades before we have the technology and know-how to get there.)

I guess I’m getting closer to the other country without yet having left this one.

  1. There seems to be no word for it, and so it’s hard to feel grateful for something I cannot even name. Plus, even though I am getting better, I don’t feel better. It’s the chemotherapy, not the cancer, that exhausts me. But I am lucky. Not everyone gets to be here and move in the direction of better.